Posts Tagged ‘postpunk


Repost: Urgh A Music War – The Best Concert Movie You’ve Never Seen

There’s a little problem with concert movies: they’re never as much fun as actually being there. Even if the performance is top notch or there’s something notable about the gig, you’re losing on the actual experience. It’s different than live albums since a film is a more active experience: you’re watching and listening, but there’s always a little remove from the actual performance.

So, I’ve never been very impressed with concert movies. Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes? Watched it maybe twice all the way through. Ziggy Stardust? Not even twice. And I can’t even work up the interest to watch one of those Grateful Dead View From the Vault DVDs, let alone the video of them playing at the pyramids.

But there’s one concert movie I’m a big fan of. I watch it every once in a while and certain clips I’ll watch a few times a week. It’s Urgh! A Music War and it’s a damn shame more people don’t know about it.

Released in 1982 but was mostly shot two years earlier, Urgh is set apart from the average concert movie in how it doesn’t track an entire show, or even one band, but sets out to document a scene: what we’d very loosely call punk, post-punk or new wave now. It jumps around between bands, cities and countries without any narration or tying elements. It just goes from band to band to band, only repeating a handful of acts. This frees it to show each act at their best. And it’s packed with great bands, including some of the most famous of their time.

The movie’s heavy on The Police, who hadn’t splintered apart yet, giving them three songs (granted, Miles Copeland – brother of Police drummer Stuart Copeland – produced the movie). Still, it’s a nice look at how good a band they actually were before Sting started taking himself a little too seriously and they all stopped talking. Their performance of Driven to Tears is more fun than the album version and Roxanne is them firing on all cylinders: they rip through it, with a frenzied crowd shouting along, and start stretching it out with instrumental sections and Sting strings the crowd along in a call and response section before pounding into the song proper again. They’re a band whose hits are a little overplayed, but stuff like this shows they were a formidable live act, too.

Joan Jett’s performance of Bad Reputation is another highlight: she rocks out here harder than I’ve ever seen her, just ripping through the song, yelling how she doesn’t give a damn about her reputation. This would’ve been recorded at a tough time for Jett: the Blackhearts were her new backing band and had played England and the States, but hadn’t signed a deal. According to lore, they sold self-pressed copies of their first album out of the back of her car. A little later, Jett signed with a label and scored a hit with a cover of I Love Rock and Roll. This earlier, more fiery performance is a good look at how hard Jett could (and still can) rock.

One of the pleasures of Urgh is how it catches a lot of bands who never caught on or established themselves in the lore of alt-rock: John Otway, 999 (who kill it on Homicide!) or Athletico Spizz 80. Or take The Au Pairs, whose spiky, jangly Come Again is another standout performance. They were one of the great twin-guitar bands of their day (just listen to the way Lesley Woods and Paul Foad trade riff and vocals), but don’t sleep on how smart their songwriting was, too. They were a short-lived band, breaking up in 1983, and their music can get hard to track down these days: it only looks like a couple of their albums are in print now and their best album – 1981′s Playing With A Different Sex – is going for $80 on Amazon.

Another band that never quite made is Los Angeles’ Alley Cats, whose performance of Nothing Means Nothing Anymore is maybe my favourite in the movie. They’re a trio who cop pretty heavily from 50s rock – the guitar line is right out of rockabilly – but are crazily energetic. I love the guitar playing by Randy Stodola, completely raw and nearly out of control, and the interplay between him and Dianne Chai is top-notch, too. It’s easily them at their peak: their studio recordings don’t have the same intensity, sounding both a little forced and polished in my opinion. Maybe they were one of those bands you had to see back in the day. Either way, they’re a band best remembered on Urgh!

If that’s my favourite performance, The Cramps take on Tear It Up probably take the prize for most memorable. Lux Interior, clad only in an ill-fitting pair of leather pants, goes absolutely nuts on stage, jumping around, shoving the microphone in his house and generally showing why there hasn’t been many that compare to him (Indeed, there’s some outtakes from this show where Lux rolls around on stage and goes bananas; he was a fearless guy at the mic). But don’t forget the rest of the band, especially guitarists Poison Ivy and Julien Grindsnatch (I think?), who match Lux as he veers between quiet and screaming. This is absolutely a band at it’s full power.

There’s a few duds among these performances, though. A band called Invisible Sex, who I’m not even sure ever recorded anything else, have a DEVO-esque number called Valium that never really gets off the ground. The long-gone Skafish shows up to do Sign of the Cross, which reminds me a little of the Mothers of Invention, but doesn’t really rank among the best stuff here.

It’s also a good visual record for bands with a strong visual element to their live performances. Gary Numan shows up in a cloud of fog in a little car he drives around a stage during Down At the Park; DEVO’s Uncontrollable Urge has them dancing around in sync in front of a huge wall of flashing lights. Most notably, it has the late Klaus Nomi in a fantastic performance of Total Eclipse, where his voice goes all over the place and his band goes nuts (there’s a great guitar part) .Unlike anyone else here, Nomi was full on performer: dressed in an angular plastic tuxedo, hair spiked up and a backing crew that includes dancers, he’s the artist who most benefits from actually seeing him preform, not just listening. It’s a great way to remember the singularly-talented Nomi, who died from AIDS in 1983.

Urgh! is a treasure chest of music from the late 70s and early 80s, with every band playing their best number. It’s got everything from Oingo Boingo to The Dead Kennedys (and man does Jello Biafra look young there) to Steel Pulse, which gives it a pretty good cross section of what was musically happening at the time. And while it works as a good sampler, it’s also an exciting watch: even the dud tracks here are among the best songs those bands recorded.

It can be a hard one to track down: Warner Archives sells DVDs for it on demand, but they only ship to the US. I’ve seen the occasional second-hand copy around, though, and most of the clips can be found online. It’s worth looking around for: it’s the best concert movie you’ve never seen.


Originally published, Jan 15, 2013


Best New Albums of 2013! #8 – Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

#8: Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion (Frenchkiss)

I think it’s fair to say I’m a sucker for loud, trashy rock. Between Neil Young’s chaotic ventures with Crazy Horse to a Lou Reed/Bowie/Mott-indebted record by Kim Fowley, I’ve spent more than a little time this year covering enjoyable, loud and unpretentious rock.

And on one level, Crocodiles’ Crimes of Passion is the trashiest, glammiest rock of the year! Needless to say, I love it. From the horns and howling bursts of guitar right down to the sneering face on the cover, it sounds like a lost classic from the early 70s. Hard edged guitars, straight-ahead rock and, buried just under everything, sunny melodies. There’s only been a few records this year that were just as much a pure pleasure to listen to.

Part of that’s due to Sune Rose Wagner’s spacey production, which fits them like a glove. The layer of reverb adds a spooky, hard edge to their noise-pop. Sure, it’s the same trick Wagner uses to great effect with his band The Raveonettes. But even Sam Phillips used slapback, so it’s hardly a signature sound. To my ears, whenever a band plays loud and aggressively, adding some ambience can do wonders in adding texture to the noise; just look at METZ’s last record.

But enough about the sound. Once you get around to thinking about the dark, moody lyrics (“My girl lives with so much pain,” sings Brandon Welchez, “but she feels alright if I feel the same”) you’ll be set to appreciate this record all over again. It’s a brash recording, but one of the year’s best, too.


Sample And Hold: Brian Eno And The Future of Rock

Throughout the seventies, Brian Eno helped produce some of most rock’s most influential albums. His career basically started with him glammed-out in Roxy Music, playing synthesizers and helping shape the band’s unique sound. After one too many clashes – and a gig where he realized he cared more about his laundry than the music he was playing – Eno split, first releasing the oddball pop duo of Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) before almost single-handedly creating ambient music on Another Green World and Music For Airports. And he found time to work with David Bowie, The Talking Heads and Devo, played an infamous series of gigs with 801, recorded instrumental albums with Robert Fripp and recorded and compiled the seminal No New York collection.

Basically, between 1974 and 1980, Eno was a pretty busy man. While his music from this period is occasionally pretentious, sometimes feels half-finished and can be a chore to get through (sometimes all three at once) it’s legacy is hard to deny: anytime one stumbles across a list of The Most Influential Albums Ever, you’ll see a bunch of his solo albums scattered therein, not to mention the stuff he produced. Still, have you listened to the second half of any of his albums? Eno was a guy who usually kicked his albums off with a few very good tracks but they usually ran out of steam about halfway through.

But for all the critical success of his seventies stuff it wasn’t until the early eighties that an album of Eno’s really feels revolutionary. And that’s because, for once, he didn’t have to do the heavy lifting. Continue reading ‘Sample And Hold: Brian Eno And The Future of Rock’