Sunday, May 31, 2015

CHEAP TRICK: Interview [1978]

Text by Cary Baker / Big Star fanzine, 1978
Introduction and photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Videos from the Internet

This interview was originally published in Big Star fanzine, issue #3, dated Spring 1978. It was written by Cary Baker. Thanks to Bernie Kugel, the fanzine’s publisher, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.

Thanks to uber-rock writer Mary Anne Cassata, I had the chance to hang out with most of Cheap Trick in the very early 1980s, during a promotion for a USO Tour. I stood outside the New York USO headquarters snapping pix of guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos goofing around, while vocalist Robin Zander bought a pretzel off a street vendor. Over a decade later, I would work with Carla Dragotti, who was a huge fan, and actually became their tour manager (I had met her just a year earlier in 1991 at the Marquee NY Johnny Thunders Memorial Concert). With all of that, I’ve never seen the band perform live. – RBF, 2015
Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos hanging out on Times Square
Cary Baker: After getting off the road with KISS a week ago after two months of solid touring, what impressions do you have of Gene Simmons and crew?
Rick Nielsen (lead guitar): I can give you a scoop. That’s not really makeup they wear at all: it’s tattooed right on their faces. It’s amazing to me as a musician that they’d be into their act enough to do that. I mean, this baseball hat I’m wearing is not sewn to my head. It does come off every time I go for a transplant.

Cary: I’d imagine it must be quite different touring with Foreigner.
Rick: It’s geared way down. KISS’s set is very elaborate with hundreds of people behind the scenes. Foreigner is a normal tour. My parents go out and buy albums by anyone we’re touring with. Foreigner was easy – they have only one album. KISS posed a problem.

Cary: Who is the handsomest man in rock’n’roll?
Rick: I’m not going to say Dick Manitoba. I read that somewhere. I guess it’s Bun and me. It’s a tie. Bun E. and I are the two most eligible bachelors in the rock’n’roll business. I did tell Paul Stanley [of KISS – RBF, 2015] that the four most eligible bachelors in the world today are Gene Simmons, Robin Zander and himself, not necessarily in that order, and if the Mexican divorce goes through, Bun E. Carlos.

Robin Zander buying a street pretzel
Cary: I heard there’s a live LP of you guys.
Rick: We did record live in the Whisky in the middle of recording In Color, but it probably won’t come out.
Tom Peterssen (bass; 12-string guitar): Who wants a boring live LP?
Rick: We’ve got other projects we’re more concerned with. Someday we’ll get to the point where we’ll be auditioning the Vienna Boys Choir, the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra – but only if they rock. We’ll draw up the ultimate charts. It won’t be Cheap Trick and Orchestra. It will be an entity of its own. But we’ll always be pounding rock’n’roll in warehouses. We’re doing TV too. Just taped shows in New York and Atlanta. Also, we’ll be appearing on Lloyd Thaxton [d. 2008], Hullabaloo and Shindig.

Cary: The single from In Color, “I Want You to Want Me,” reportedly has a B-side that’s not on the album.
Rick: It’s called “Oh Boy,” and it marks the singing debut of Bun E. Carlos. But since Bun E. has never sung, there are no vocals on it.

Cary: What if it’s the runaway A-side?
Rick: I doubt it. But it’s neat. You’ll never guess who’s whistling on it. When you get a copy, listen to the whistling at the beginning. I’d tell you who it is only it would be like dropping names. We did our LP at Kendun [Studios] in L.A., where the greats have done albums, like Fleetwood Mac. Just think, it could have been Stevie Nicks whistling, but nah!

Bun E and Rick bookend Steven Stills on his birthday.
Cary: Word’s reached us here that there’s a Cheap Trick bootleg on the West Coast. You must be very flattered.
Bun E. Carlos (drums): There was. But not since the FBI’s been out there.
Tom: The idea was flattering…
Rick: …the recording was terrible. They made my voice sound so stupid.
Bun E.: They took a $75 cassette machine in the 50th row or something with no EQ added.
Rick: Though I must say, the performance was brilliant!

Cary: Rick, are the rumors true that you played on a couple of Yardbirds’ singles?
Rick: Jimmy Page said he never saw who did the keyboard stuff. He was always gone before that stuff was added. The editor of Trouser Press asked Page about that. He said if he does remember me, he called me Pete Townsend, 10 or 12 years ago. He called me Pete Townsend because he wanted to buy some guitars from me. Instead, I stole them from him. No, I never stole a guitar, though he did get some stolen. Really, though, he wanted to buy my guitars. I didn’t sell them to him and his career went right down the drain.
Bun E.: Serves that guy right.

Robin Zander stands amid member of other groups
such as the Eagles and Kansas
Cary: What new songs have you written for the new album?
Rick: I’m in a real slump. One I just wrote – and the band hates it – is “Oh, Claire.” I think it’s a cool song, though. In 3-1/2 minutes, this couple, well, they meet, they get married, they have kids, they grow old, the guy dies and goes to heaven. It’s cool. Look for it on our next album.
Bun E.: Kind of like Love Story.

Cary: After working with two producers, Jack Douglas and Tom Werman [who currently owns a luxury B&B in Lenox, MA – RBF, 2015], who do you feel handled the group best?
Tom: I’ll put it to you this way and let you guess which is which: one guy was unbelievably great. One guy didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Rick: One of them cheats on his wife. I’m sorry; they both cheat on their wives. The first album that Douglas did had more of a live sound; the second was more of a studio album. If we use a different producer for four albums – and I’m not saying we will, but if we do – we’ll call in the producers and we’re gonna produce them and see what they sound like. That will be after Cheap Trick Four, which is the tentative name of our fourth LP [their fourth album was, of course, 1979’s Dream Police – RBF, 2015].

Rick Nielsen motor-vatin'
Cary: Has there been radio action on the album?
Rick: Sure, all over. We were even interviewed on Clairol Essence Earth News Radio, you know? We did that a year ago. They ask you your favorite color on the taping. Then on the show, they ask you, “Rick, you look a little down in the dumps. How do you feel today?” “Blue.”

Cary: What’s on the boards for the third album [Heaven Tonight – RBF, 2015]?
Rick: The Ten Commandments. It’s really very clever. We’ll dedicate it to the growing Bun E. Carlos is God sect in Chicago. We’ll have “In the Bun-ginning” or “In the B. Ginnings” and “On the Third Album.” It will be a total concept. The Ten Commandments etched in vinyl. Watch for it around Spring.



Monday, May 25, 2015

DVD Review: Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Dexter Romweber: Two-Headed Cow
Directed by Tony Gayton
MVD Visual
Cape Fear Filmworks
78 minutes, 2006 / 2011

Before the film Boyhood (2014) made a name by following its subjects for a dozen years, and during the period of British director Michael Apted’s Up series following some school chums every seven years, indie director Tony Gayton pointed his camera at The Flat Duo Jets’ lead singer and guitarist, Dexter Romweber, over a period of two decades.

Usually I don’t quote the jacket cover, but here is a shortened version of the description, which I thought did a fine job of an overview: “…[this] started as a black and white film that followed Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow [Chris Smith] on a rock and roll tour along the same route as General Sherman. The film was not finished… but thanks to the digital age the filmmakers were able to resume the film seventeen years later.” Of course, what goes on in the film is actually way beyond the scope of that statement.

I only had the opportunity to see The Flat Duo Jets (TFDJ) once, videotaping their performance at CBGBs on a co-bill with Buffalo cult band The Mystic Eyes in the early 1990s. They were a lot of fun, and I wish I had the opportunity to see them again, but it just never came to be after that. In one more egocentric statement, there is a clip of the band on The David Letterman Show, and ironically, I am watching it on the night of Letterman’s last program. Cue The Twilight Zone music, please!

There are many ways to categorize the music of Romweber and all of them would be accurate, and yet none of them would be, as well. There is a baseline of blues, as his solo off-the-cuff rendition of the Slim Harpo classic “King Bee,” on acoustic guitar in a motel room. There is also an Elvis-esque rockabilly flair when he is in a manic stage. And yet, the evidence of a garage revival from his early ‘80s influences is present. Put that all into an envelope of Other music – a cover term for the unexplainable-yet-charismatic likes of the Shaggs, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and especially the first-generation of the Cramps – and you still haven’t nailed down what it is about Dexter that is a general descriptor as he cannot be pigeonholed. He just refers to it as “‘50s music.” That’s also why he has so many fans, including many who are musicians who refer to him as a major influence.

Thankfully, Gayton doesn’t do the film chronologically, but rather gives us resonating vignettes of the music and the man, as he theorizes life (usually with ciggy-butt firing away) in a cryptic and possibility just a bit of psychotic way. Yet, he still remains a charmer, which I say without the slightest hint of sarcasm, but rather admiration.

At the early stages of the documentary, there is a flash flood of name performers who boost up what Romweber has meant to them, including Jack White (who shares a similar passion for both ‘50s ‘billy and off-kilter performance; he has also had much more success, though Romweber is by far more interesting), the now Tea Party advocate Excene Cervenka of X fame, and Neko Case, with whom Romweber has toured in the past. They all give their testimonials on influence, and happily, unlike most music documentaries, after stating their case in bytes, they mostly don’t come back until briefly near the very end. This is in a brave and thankful deference to most films that drown in back-slapping. No, this film is about Romweber, and he keeps our attention throughout.

His mom, who we meet both in the late 1980s and then again in the mid 2000s, called Dexter an “old soul,” and that may be true, as is his history of alcohol and some drug abuse (we don’t get the impression any of it was of the opiate nature), which led to breakdowns, career hiccups, lost friendships (e.g., Crow, who struggled with his own demons), and an affection for Jean Baudrillard, one of Dexter’s also-troubled philosophical idols. Through mental health issues (in my opinion) and previous use of mind-altering substances such as booze and pot, Romweber goes into some detail about how he has survived over the years between the first filming and the second, but acknowledges that there have been constants, such as his Silvertone guitar, of which he gives us a tour.

The third act is filled with both destruction and redemption, intermingled. After the breakup of the TFDJ, there was a two-year tailspin of no music, regret of the failed TFDJ and the promise of a higher-level career that was not meant to be by the end of the film, but it’s shown that all of it is what makes Romweber remain true to his music. I wonder how much he would have been corrupted by the industry back in the 1980s and ‘90s if success had befallen on him. Yes, he’s still struggling on one level, but as we learn from Neko and others, his influence is felt every day in their own musical output.

There is a lot of music played by Romweber throughout the film, but very little of it is official, i.e., recordings. We do see bits and pieces of the tours, both 1988 and 2005, but most of it is off the cuff stuff, in motel rooms, at home with his mom, hanging out (with Crow, for example), some clips on stage, and even what looks like an old age home where he plays piano for a less-than-gaggle-number of old men. No song is shown complete, but this off-the-cuff competently shows both how much music is a part of his life, and unconventional means of affectionate communication (e.g., in my own family, we communicated by asking routes traveled and volume of traffic; here, casual music is the medium of conveyance of connection).

An especially touching moment is a back-and-forth of Romweber at a piano singing “Burning Bridges,” both in the early BandW and then-present, with Gayton eventually joining the shots together.

While one of the meanings of the title of the film is presented during the final credits, in my opinion there are more possibilities, such as the twin comparison of ’88 vs. ’05, and even an opening clip from the early days, where Romweber is talking and Crow is standing behind him, harmlessly and joyfully mocking him, almost looking like his head is growing from Dexter’s shoulder.

The three extras are solo performances by Romweber: a spectacular instrumental guitar showcase on BET’s Jazz Discovery (5 minutes), an on-stage medley at the Silverlake Lounge (3 minutes), and a somewhat amusing interview Mr. Mouse and music on the Chapel Hill cable access show Z-TV (30 minutes).

This film is both unknown by most, and yet legendary among fans, filling up festivals whenever it shows up on occasion. Now that it’s on DVD and I assume VoD, this is definitely a chance to see one of the unique characters on the indie music scene.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DVD Review: John Mellencamp: It’s About You

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

John Mellencamp: It’s About You
Directed, photographed and edited by Kurt Markus and Ian Markus
MPI Home Pictures / Little B Pictures
80 minutes, 2010 / 2012
But first, a digressive tale from the ego: In 1989, I had a co-worker who was a John Cougar Mellencamp fan (perchance a Mellenhead?). He would go on and on (and on) about how he had very record, every bootleg, every video regarding Mellencamp that had ever been released. To shut him up, I brought in two pieces of vinyl: a 12” split picture disc of Cougar and Cindy Bullens on MainMan, and a four-song 7” EP (with picture sleeve) called U.S. Male that was put out by indie Indiana label, Gulcher Records (which more infamous released the recordings of the Gizmos). He had previously heard of neither of them.

I thought they guy was going to have a heart attack. He wanted to buy them off me, and I said no. I’m not a fan, but I did not want to give this guy the satisfaction. I’m sure he probably bought them off eBay at some point, but I only worked with him for about four to six months. It felt good, and was worth it (and yes, I still have them). Now he can buy this.

And now, back to our feature presentation

At the time of the filming, Kurt Markus was a purist photographer in his 60s living out in Wyoming. His son Ian was in his 20s, and on a challenge by John Mellencamp (JM) himself, they were invited along on a tour with John, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan to film it, and also some recording sessions for an upcoming LP, No Better Than This, released in 2010. Note that there is zero footage of either Willie or Bob.

Shot in a somewhat grainy Super 8 and mixed with stills, Kurt narrates in florid and poetic language about how the two of them, in tow, used this filming as a time of self-“discovery.” This was all set up by JM challenging Kurt to put down the still camera and pick up the film one, and get creative. Mostly, we learn is that this film – while JM is the centerpiece – it is also, in John’s words to Kurt, “it’s about you.”

One of the early shots of the tour is of JM (okay, mostly the audience) on stage singing “Pink Houses,” and “Paper in Fire,” followed by Kurt philosophizing over footage of small towns and big. I see now why Kurt and JM are friends: they wax poetic, but tend to see the glass half empty and try to understand it. For JM, his lyrics are about failure (“…ain’t that America?!”), while Kurt looks at St. Louis and wonders how desolate it may be in 50 years.

We follow JM and crew into the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, with an explanation of how it was used as part of the Underground Railroad. It is also where JM records “Clumsy Ol’ World,” which we see in part. After, JM and his wife (Elaine Irwin; divorced 2011) get baptized by being dunked in a mikva dug into the church floor. Now this may sound cynical (and it probably is), but as I don’t really know JM well, though I know he is for marriage equity and an Obama supporter, so I wonder if they were baptized there for themselves, or the camera.

Kurt has found the sweet spot between highlighting JM and keeping his own personal touch. If there is any complaint about that, it’s that sometimes his philosophizing is over the music; even if I’m not a fan, I still want to understand the music and what about it makes JM = JM, but more often than not we listen to Kurt talk about missing a photo opportunity of Bob Dylan due to the Zimmer-man’s insistence on privacy and not being looked at by crew, or not getting film of someone in Memphis saying that Johnny Cash believed that JM was one of the top10 songwriters in America. A redeeming feature, though, is what Kurt is waxing on about reflects the music playing, in that observant, depressive way (i.e., the destruction of downtowns for the suburbs). Kurt says it best when he posits that “Perhaps John and I are making this journey together. He has brought me in as a parallel traveler.” That is what I would call astute and accurate.

Some of the best musical moments are the sessions in Memphis and San Antonio. It’s among the more static shots, but still interesting as JM and musicians sit around a single microphone, with T. Bone Burnett in charge. The following live performance shots from those cities have some electric sounds and visuals. JM’s Americana Blues Rock sounds better than I remember, even when he’s talking about death. What’s more, his commitment comes through.

Considering the gear used, it is naturally grainy and shaky, like all those home movies of long gone, but the subject matter is the focal point. That being said, Kurt’s experience as a photographer help him in a number of ways, such as how the film is processed, with many different monochromes (red, blue, brown, etc.), as well as standardized colors. As the film explains in the credits, for you technocrats out there, “This film was shot entirely with Beaulieu Super8 cameras, modified by technicians at Pro8mm, using Kodak’s Vision 3 500T color negative stock. Digital Mastering and colorizing…on a Millennium II HD Scanner.”

And at the end, what do we learn about JM and Kurt? Not much, but it’s a fun ride. We conclude that they are very different people, and yet share similar values. JM expresses himself in narrative lyrics and music about life being hard, and Kurt waxes poetic about what he sees in life, the American Southern landscape both rural and urban, and he ponders. In other words, JM looks out, and Kurt looks within, and they find a similar internal soundtrack.

Over the end credits is the video to one of the JM’s biggest hits, “R.O.C.K. in theUSA.” Definitely one of his better, to me, but watching this I realize I tend to go more for the indie than the major hit, preferring the Fleshtones’ “American Beat ’84,” which covers similar material. The point of my saying this is that Mellencamp is an I.N.S.T.I.T.U.T.I.O.N. in the USA, and as much as he feels browbeat at times here, and as much as he can be both a loveable teddy bear and an asshole curmudgeon, he definitely has the chops. And perhaps his tour being stripped down to barebones musicians and minimal crew (e.g., no soundguy), he’s gonna do okay. Even now, in 2015, he’s on a big tour. But what he’s feeding on, for example, is the breakdown of the American cities (remember, this is filmed right after the Bush Administration raped the country’s economy to foster a war to profit his Vice President, with its strongest downturn being in 2008), Even if Kurt and Ian’s cameras stop rolling, there will always be an audience for JM, and rightfully so. But I choose more towards the independents, the hungry, the huddles masses waiting for a guitar-led garage band.

The only extras are the trailers and a much appreciated subtitles. That being said, make sure you stick around for the Epilogue after the credits.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Film Review: D.O.A. (Don’t Overlook Any-Of-It) [1980]

Text by Lisa Baumgardner / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #4, dated May/June 1980, page 11. It was written by Lisa Baumgardner Falour, who published Bikini Girl fanzine at the time.

Sadly, Lisa passed away early this year in Paris. Lisa was an incredibly interesting person, as was her fanzine. She worked as a writer, photographer, artist, and for a while as a BDSM pin-up model. She was also known for always carrying a hidden cassette recorder, on which she taped all conversations, and then would publish them in her fanzine when she found them interesting. But hardly anyone she transcribed was as thought-provoking as her. I was introduced to her by Diana Torborina, someone who I worked with at Dimensional Sound Studios, and with whom I became friendly (Diana, if you read this, please feel free to contact me).

For my first half-tabloid newsprint issue of FFanzeen, Lisa wrote a review of Lech Kowalski’s then-new, and now-classic 1980 documentary about the Sex Pistols, D.O.A. As a side note, Lech took out a full page ad for the film, for which he never paid the $100. I’m just sayin’. – RBF, 2015

D.O.A. will soon be released to theaters around the world as a feature-length punk rock documentary. It’s definitely worth seeing, but requires a lot of patience and objectivity. Punk rock and its spin-offs in the fashion, art and political world are both important and inconsequential, and tell a story about the ‘70s, yet doesn’t say much at all.

Lech Kowalski’s Film is hard to sit through but bears a number of incredible scenarios. Beginning with a baptism and a soundtrack peppered with corny heartbeats, we are led through the doorway of X-Ray Spex’s rehearsal studio for an astounding performance of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Cut away to an interview with the president of Warner Bros. Records, who sneers and mentions, “You know, we are not a non-profit organization!”

These perplexing statements are part of a much larger onslaught of visual sludge known as D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival), a 100-minute-long documentary film on punk. Not the “punk” I grew up with. Hopefully, you too were spared because it’s ugly and disturbing, and when I saw it, my own youth suddenly seemed too close and fresh and unsettling. Yuck!

A pretty girl with heavy makeup and short hair is interviewed in a prone position in a parking lot in Texas. She has just been literally thrown out of a theater where the Sex Pistols were playing. Her crime? “Hangin’ out,” she moans. Apparently, the police have used direct physical force to eliminate a group of fans loitering in the lobby. She looks pretty seriously hurt, at the very least extremely distraught. Can she get up? “This is why punks gotta carry chains!” she says. Violence is breeding further violence. “What are you doing tonight?” Lech Kowalski asks her from behind-camera. “Who cares?” she replies, starting to cry. “I don’t care. If you care, you get let down.”

The film is full of gruesome vignettes. The comedy relief? An interview with Sid and Nancy, O.D.-ing and barely coherent in his all-black bedroom in London. The only time Sid seems aware of anything is when Nancy peels off her black rubber t-shirt, glistening with sweat. He picks it up, sniffs it, and smiles with a look of wonder. “’Ey, it smells just like you, Nancy!” “Well, it ought to,” she replies, “I’ve been wearing it since the first day I got to London.”

“I ain’t afraid to walk down the street looking totally ridiculous,” one serious-looking London punk musician explains. “It don’t matter what ya got on. You’re a human bean, just like everybody else. You’re messed up.”

The message behind this film, as well as the continuity, is obscure. Punk is a reflection of decay, one might say, and as the title implies, was born dead. The similarities between British and American audiences are the boredom, pent-up frustration, and search for freedom of expression of the anger youth feels. British public officials are quoted ridiculing punk and insisting, “They can’t win.” Can’t win what? “I’m ashamed of the world we’ve made,” one female official says, “if our children are growing up with attitudes like this.”

There are moments in D.O.A. that come close to capturing the feeling at a band rehearsal. Four or five young musicians are kidding around in an old, garage-like converted studio, and they begin to belt out a tune as if their lives depend on it. Yes, we conclude, it does start out positive. It’s energetic self-expression, and it beats the fuck out of boredom. But by the time it gets to be performed before thousands of kids who’ve paid ten bucks to see it, it’s pretty sorry stuff.

D.O.A. is negative, but very thought-provoking. It is exciting to see a film with guts these days. It is straightforward, raunchy, and has no plot. It seeks to reveal glimpses of a fascinating phenomenon. Lech Kowalski has a lot of energy and determination to have traveled extensively with a crew numbering from four to thirty, and the footage shot of the Sex Pistols’ tour in the South, particularly Georgia and Texas, is priceless. He has not tried to be arty. He presents a variety of conflicting circumstances and opinions, and allows us to be voyeurs without getting spit on at a crowded rock arena full of young people looking and behaving like assholes. He shows us Sham 69, the Dead Boys, and Bleecker Bob, too. He also makes us wonder about money – the concert promoters, the record companies, the media – and the way they present punk to the world. One of the British officials insists the individual musicians are doing it for the money. We think of Sid and Nancy. In it for the money?

Bonus D.O.A. footage:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

DVD Review: Big Country – Live at the Town and Country Club, London, 1990

Text by Matt Stevenson / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Big Country – Live at the Town and Country Club, London
Directed by Chris Bould
Wienerworld Presentation
50 minutes, 1990 / 2013
Big Country were the Scottish equivalent of Ireland's U2, appearing in the same early 1980s time frame and growing from similar roots of punkish teenage bands.  The early recordings of both bands shared the same producer in Steve Lillywhite, and in an only slightly different alternative universe Big Country could have enjoyed U2's massive later success.

Both bands were fronted by singers who wrote about topics large and small, tackling world issues as frequently as personal relationships.  One difference: Big Country had two guitarists who frequently sounded like bagpipers, as opposed to U2's one guitarist whose more processed sound frequently resembled anything but a guitar.

This set, shot at London's Town and Country venue in 1990 – during a period in which their usual drummer Mark Brzezicki was replaced by Pat Ahern – is short at 50 minutes. Yet it contains all their major hits plus one cover, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," which was a pretty recent hit at the time, having been released by Neil the previous year.  Big Country's fans may not be as numerous as U2's, but it is apparent from the seething mosh pit that was the lower level at this show that their fans were less mellow and more rabid than U2's.  Not really surprising, as BC's songs were almost always more energetic than those of their Celtic rivals.

The personal demons of frontman Stuart Adamson were unfortunately a limiting factor on their potential success: shortly after this concert they were dropped by their label PolyGram, and from then on had middling results, though they received some exposure in the mid-90's after their Buffalo Skinners CD, when they opened for portions of the Stones' Voodoo Lounge Tour.  

Adamson quit drinking for ten years after their label change and in 1996 moved to Nashville, but never rid himself of his torments, returning to booze and later hanging himself in a Hawaiian hotel room while facing impaired-driving charges back in Nashville.  Still, U2's The Edge told the mourners at Stuart's funeral that Big Country wrote the songs that he wished U2 could write.

At the time of this show, however, those sad days were still in the future and Adamson appears joyous and fully engaged with the audience, and the band really meshes and plays very tightly.  The show is not as comprehensive as their other concert DVDs, but anyone who is thinking of purchasing this will find it a worthwhile addition to their collection.
Stuart Adamson: vox / guitar
Bruce Watson: guitar / vox
Tony Butler: bass / vox
Pat Ahern: drums

Song list:
Restless Natives
Look Away
Fields of Fire
Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)
Come Back to Me
In a Big Country
River of Hope
Rockin’ in the Free World


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DVD Review: Welcome to the Machine

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Welcome to the Machine
Directed by Andreas Steinkogler
MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2013 

 The catch phrase of the documentary is as follows: “The 12 Commandments of music business in one film. Become a star just by watching it!” Okaaaaaayyyyyyy…

There have been the odd times my life where I read some self-help books. They were huge in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and each one had a single point of focus: do this and you will have success. The same is true with philosophy: It’s either “people are good” or “people are bad.” The thing is, there is no one way for anyone, because everything is causal due to both spacial and temporal components. In other words, what happens is effected/affected by where you are and what is happening in culture at that moment. There is no “here is how you do it” primer for success in any media, you just have to plug at it. But this German / Austrian film begs to differ.

The “lab rats” of this is a German band called The New Vitamin (pronounced VIT-amin). The supposition is that by the end of the film they should be big stars if they follow instruction. I have a music promoter friend who is also a musician, and he often tells me “if so-and-so wanted to be a star, he would do what I said.” Well, he’s certainly not a star; does he not follow his own direction? But I digress, though I make a point…

So, The New Vitamin is mix of rock and DJ-fueled techno, so yeah, it’s awful. But that’s not the point, which is whether they get successful or not. As for the States, well, I never heard o’ them, but I’m not aware if it had any success in Germany. Oh, speaking of which, before I forget, this film is in English and German (with subtitles).

But then the film drowns the information by trying to give too much of it, without having any real content. Broken down into different chapters (if you haven’t devised that from the “12 Commandments”), including early live gigs, dealing with the record company, publicity, genres, and using media, from the Internet to music videos.

What is impressive is the sheer number of musicians from around the world of multiple genres that Steinkogler interviews, including (and this is just a small sample, in no particular order) Peaches, Nada Surf, Adam Green (still trying to figure out his popularity), Xiu Xiu, Nada Surf, Megadeth, Steve Akoi, Flogging Molly, the great Suzi Quatro, Kim Wilde, and even anti-musician Lydia Lunch.

Many of these artists tell of their own experiences, rather than saying, “Do this,” which contradicts the whole message of the documentary. Not only that, the film does not even give stories, it’s a 90 minute series of 15-seconds or less soundbites with absolutely no cohesion, therefore there really is no central message on how to do anything, but instead aligns with what I said in the first paragraphs.

One topic discussed, which actually came close to interesting was that as digital music rose in prominence, downloading went way up, but money to musicians went to shit, because of the ease of digital piracy, though the majors are raking in billions (using piracy as an excuse not to pay their artists?). But what does this have to do with becoming successful in the music biz? Dunno.

And The New Vitamin, who formed in 2008? Well, I noticed that their last post on Facebook is dated June 2013. That does not bode well, and it seems they haven’t followed the “advice” of this documentary and played the machine successfully.

Whether you like one of the Legion of musicians here or not, there is so much partial and muddled data that the end result is that there is no useful information in the long run, so this DVD defeats its own purpose by overkill. Pretty to look at, nice to see what Suzi and Kim look like now, but mostly this is an example of a failure of its purpose. Shame, though.


Bonus Video: