Category Archives: Film/DVD

LURE/KRAMER/STINSON/BURKE – L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric

January 01, 1970

www.mvdb2b.com

The Upshot: Walter Lure and company blast through Johnny Thunders’ legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

L.A.M.F., the only studio album by Johnny Thunders’ infamous New Yawk punk ‘n’ roll band the Heartbreakers, turned 40 in 2017, outlasting its driving force by a good quarter of a century, Thunders, a notorious junkie, having passed away in ’91 in New Orleans. In anticipatory celebration, Heartbreakers co-guitarist and torchbearer Walter Lure assembled a dream team of Thunders cohorts and acolytes to perform the album front-to-back in its original Track Records 1977 order for a week-long residency in mid-November 1016 at the Bowery Electric venue, recording the shows for a proposed album and video. (For a detailed review of the event, along with the Heartbreakers’ backstory, check out journalist/photographer Caryn Rose’s account at Noisey.)

Joined by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (who played with Thunders in the short-lived Gang War), Blondie/Plimsouls drummer Clem Burke (who came up on the same downtown NYC scene as Thunders) and erstwhile Replacements/Guns ‘N Roses bassist Tommy Stinson (the ‘Mats being one of the few American bands to keep Thunders’ reckless rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning), plus guests, Lure delivers exactly the kind of rock show you’d expect from someone who came up that close to the flame.

The quartet plays like they rehearsed just enough to be on the same page with the songs, but not enough to be anything close to slick. Lure and Stinson share the vocals, with the former keeping to NYC cool and the latter bawling like an out-of-breath animal, while Lure and Kramer faithfully reproduce the original LP’s clashing six-string chaos and Burke calmly makes the case for being the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer alive. The ad hoc band acquits itself nicely on the usual classics like “Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose,” with Kramer singing “Let Go” and Burke doing Jerry Nolan’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.” D Generation’s Jesse Malin guests on a feral “I Wanna Be Loved” and a poignant “It’s Not Enough”; Cheetah Chrome romps through “Goin’ Steady”; up-and-coming New York rocker Liza Colby brings soul to “I Love You”; and Chrome and Malin team up on a blazing “Pirate Love.” The whole thing comes clanging to a close with a Kramer-sung “Do You Love Me,” the Heartbreakers’ roaring bash through a Motown classic.

Production values are catch as catch can, with frequent out-of-focus video, a squirrelly mix that favors volume over nuance, a director clearly flying by the seat of his pants, especially in the editing room, and no effort put into maintaining continuity between the three different performances captured in order to compile the film. It makes one wonder if the decision to shoot it was last minute. But you know what? That’s all fine, even appropriate. Johnny Thunders never chased perfection when he could nail the moment, and Lure and company blast through his legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.

STILL LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER: The Heartbreakers’ Classic LP, Revived

As released on DVD and LP to chronicle a series of 2016 concerts, and more recently celebrated on a 2017 mini-tour, the iconic punk album proves its staying power.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

L.A.M.F., the only studio album by Johnny Thunders’ infamous New Yawk punk ‘n’ roll band the Heartbreakers, turned 40 in 2017, outlasting its driving force by a good quarter of a century, Thunders, a notorious junkie, having passed away in ’91 in New Orleans. In anticipatory celebration, Heartbreakers co-guitarist and torchbearer Walter Lure assembled a dream team of Thunders cohorts and acolytes to perform the album front-to-back in its original Track Records 1977 order for a short residency in mid-November 2016 at the Bowery Electric venue, recording the shows for a proposed album and video. (For a detailed review of the event, along with the Heartbreakers’ backstory, check out journalist/photographer Caryn Rose’s account at Noisey.) The video rendering recently arrived on DVD courtesy Jungle/MVD.

 

Joined by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (who played with Thunders in the short-lived Gang War), Blondie/Plimsouls drummer Clem Burke (who came up on the same downtown NYC scene as Thunders) and erstwhile Replacements/Guns ‘N Roses bassist Tommy Stinson (the ‘Mats being one of the few American bands to keep Thunders’ reckless rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning), plus guests, Lure delivers exactly the kind of rock show you’d expect from someone who came up that close to the flame.

The quartet plays like they rehearsed just enough to be on the same page with the songs, but not enough to be anything close to slick. Lure and Stinson share the vocals, with the former keeping to NYC cool and the latter bawling like an out-of-breath animal, while Lure and Kramer faithfully reproduce the original LP’s clashing six-string chaos and Burke calmly makes the case for being the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer alive. The ad hoc band acquits itself nicely on the usual classics like “Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose,” with Kramer singing “Let Go” and Burke doing Jerry Nolan’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.” D Generation’s Jesse Malin guests on a feral “I Wanna Be Loved” and a poignant “It’s Not Enough”; Cheetah Chrome romps through “Goin’ Steady”; up-and-coming New York rocker Liza Colby brings soul to “I Love You”; and Chrome and Malin team up on a blazing “Pirate Love.” The whole thing comes clanging to a close with a Kramer-sung “Do You Love Me,” the Heartbreakers’ roaring bash through a Motown classic.

Production values are catch as catch can, with frequent out-of-focus video, a squirrelly mix that favors volume over nuance, a director clearly flying by the seat of his pants, especially in the editing room, and no effort put into maintaining continuity between the three different performances captured in order to compile the film. It makes one wonder if the decision to shoot it was last minute. But you know what? That’s all fine, even appropriate. Johnny Thunders never chased perfection when he could nail the moment, and Lure and company blast through his legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.

EDITOR’S NOTE: L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric has also been released as a limited edition (950 copies pressed), colored vinyl collectible, arriving in independent record stores for the annual Record Store Day “Black Friday” event. (The LP appears to not be listed on the Record Store Day website for that Black Friday sale, originally billed as a “RSD Limited Run/Regional Focus Release; but the BLURT braintrust eagerly snapped up copies on Black Friday, and as of this writing it appears to be available online but with only 950 copies in circulation, it probably won’t remain that way for long.)

And bringing things up to the present, the real 40th anniversary-of-L.A.M.F. was celebrated this past November 29 and 30, also at the Bowery Electric, followed by shows in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Solana Beach, and San Francisco, where they wrapped on Dec. 4. The mini-tour featured a slightly different roster of players. Lure, obviously, headed things up, and fellow ground-zero punk Burke was also on hand; they were joined by Mike Ness of Social Distortion on guitar, and Sex Pistols/Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock. Malin again was a special guest, having helped organize both the 2016 and 2017 shows, turning in spirited vocals on “Pirate Love,” “It’s Not Enough,” and — in the Thunders-centric four-song encore — the iconic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”

Memories, indeed.

 

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Top 10 Films of 2017

BY DANIEL MATTI / BLURT FILM EDITOR

(Go HERE to view the Blurt Movie Thoughts master page, which has links to all previous installments.)

***

  1. The Disaster Artist

From my love of a “behind the scenes” movie to my actual love of Tommy Wiseau’s 2001 The Room, The Disaster Artist continues to just be the one film that replays over and over in my head. Throughout the whole movie I had transcended into actually feeling like I was on set of The Room through James Franco’s Tommy Wieseau’s impression, alongside the huge cast of amazing actors and actresses that included Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, and Zac Efron. If you have not seen it because you are timid about James Franco making fun of it, or if you are just unfamiliar with it in general, I suggest taking a breath, watching The Room with a group of friends, and then watching The Disaster Artist.

 

  1. Good Time

This still has to be one of my favorite crime movies in quite a while. From one of the best scores of the year, by Oneohtrix Point Never, to the dark ‘80s vibe that has me anxious to see what the Safdie Brothers are gonna do next. What are they doing next? A remake of 48 Hours. Which has me very, very excited.

Read the rest of my thoughts here: http://blurtonline.com/2017/09/daniel-matti-movie-thoughts-three-new-film-reviews-2-0/

 

  1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Yorgos Lanthimos likes to make movies that will linger in your head for a very long time. I don’t think in all of 2017 I have seen a movie quite like this. Pretty sure I’ve never seen a movie like this ever.

Read the rest of my thoughts here: http://blurtonline.com/2017/12/daniel-matti-movie-thoughts-three-new-film-reviews-4-0/

 

  1. Raw

Seeing Raw without having any idea of what you are about to get yourself into is probably the best way to go into seeing it for maximum sense overload and an overall mind-blowing experience from director Julia Ducournau. Raw ends up being one of the most original cannibal stories in quite some time. Garance Marillier plays Justine, a devout vegetarian who just entered her first year of veterinarian school alongside her sister, Alexia, played by the wonderful Ella Rumpf. She enters a rough college world—from twisted hazing to her finding out who she really is—which is something really pro-founding. With cinematography overtones of Dario Argento, this is definitely a must-watch for any horror movie connoisseur.

 

  1. I, Tonya

This was one of the most spectacular surprises I had all 2017—from being unsure of seeing a movie I knew about from seeing on the news at a very young age and not caring then, to being completely spellbound by Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Tonya Harding and the story that covers not just “The Incident” but her life before and after. I can only hope that Robbie ends up taking the “Best Actress” award at this years Oscars.

 

 

  1. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Unfortunately, I can see Valerian not making a lot of lists this year, but I had one of the best times at the theater seeing it. Hopefully after it hits the streaming services and physical copies are released, it will come back around and get the praise it deserves.

Read the rest of my thoughts here: http://blurtonline.com/2017/08/daniel-matti-movie-thoughts-three-new-film-reviews/

 

  1. Get Out

By far, one of the most multidimensional movies of the year was directed by Jordan Peele. Get Out was marketed as a horror movie where many thought it was not a horror movie. Whatever you thought the film brought to you, you can’t deny it being one of the best of 2017. Being that it’s Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is impressive and definitely has solidified for him a promising career in film.

 

  1. Brigsby Bear

One of the year’s most underrated movies was a small film done by a group of the Saturday Night Live current and past crew. Written and staring Kyle Mooney and produced by the Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone) comedy trio, Brigsby Bear takes you on an ‘80s trip that has dark overtones of 2015’s Lenny Abrahamson-directed Room. Which is a confusing sentence to read if you do read that right: Lonely Island comedy mixed with Room. From the cast that also includes Mark Hamill, Claire Danes, and Greg Kinnear, it’s one that people should definitely check out.

 

  1. Colossal

From the new distribution company, Neon, came its first film of 2017 that casts a giant shadow into what the distribution company can bring to the table (the second movie they released this year is I, Tonya). Starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, Colossal is a comedic love story blended with giant monster movie vibes. Overall, just a solid movie that leaves you satisfied.

 

  1. The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon put the story of the entire relationship out on screen this year and it ended up being one of the most romantic movies of the year. From one of my favorite directors, Michael Showalter, to some of my favorite actors and actresses, The Big Sick will be hailed as one of the classic movies from the year of 2017 when we look back from years to come.

 

 

TRAGICALLY HIP – Long Time Running

Title: Long Time Running

Director: n/a

Release Date: December 01, 2017

www.eaglevision.com

The Upshot: A most fitting tribute to the Canadian stars – and a most fitting goodbye to their charismatic frontman.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The Tragically Hip were most definitely a Canadian band. Despite some strong pockets of fervent fans in the U.S. and elsewhere across the globe, over the border up north they were U2, Springsteen, Petty and the Rolling Stones all rolled into one.

That diehard, decades-long devotion to the band can be seen throughout Long Time Running (95 mins; Eagle Vision), an emotional documentary focusing on The Tragically Hip’s farewell tour. With singer Gord Downie diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, the Ontario-based group decided to give their devotees a proper goodbye in the form of a 15-date cross-Canada run of shows in 2016. The film intersperses performance shots with fan testimonials and interviews with the band and Downie’s doctors.

After diagnosis, it was not clear that the band could perform again, with treatment causing Downie to forget most of the lyrics to their songs, but the singer that eventually took the stage month later seems to be in prime form, with the audience helping by singing along to every single song.

Even if you’ve never heard a minute of the Tragically Hip, there is still plenty to enjoy about Long Time Running. Emotional without being exploitive and appreciative without drifting into overt fawning over the subject, the directors did a commendable job of bringing to life a story about a band saying goodbye on its own terms

 

Daniel Matti: Movie Thoughts – Three New Film Reviews 4.0

Reviews of Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (by Martin McDonagh), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (by Yorgos Lanthimos), and Creep 2 (by Mark Duplass and friends).

BY DANIEL MATTI / BLURT FILM EDITOR

(Go HERE to view the Blurt Movie Thoughts master page, which has links to all previous installments.)

***

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

4 out of 5 stars

With a movie title like that, you figured it would be a movie that would be hard to remember but after leaving the film, Three Billboards will be stuck in your head for a while. From the hilariously dark mind of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths) comes his newest film, and he doesn’t stray away from his normal style of filmmaking—movies that are filled with vivid characters who come to the screen to do damage in numbers. Here, the cast includes Francis McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage.

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) who is a recently-divorced, still-grieving mother over the death of her daughter who was raped then brutally murdered, rents out three billboards seven months after the murder, all located within a few feet of her house and on a road not many travel down. The billboard read, in order, “Raped while dying”—“And still no arrests”—“How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) and racist officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell) are notified about the billboards, which brings on a series of events to try to figure out who killed Mildred’s daughter.

With a topic such a rape and murder you would think that you would not be ready for a movie filled with belly laughs, but here, it is quite the opposite. Martin McDonagh movies have characters who are as evil and conniving as they are laughable (either at or along with).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was initially out in select cities, but distribution was subsequently expanded and it is currently in most markets.

***


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

5 out of 5 stars

From the warped mind of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) comes his latest, amazing, but yet hard to stomach movie. Now, when I say hard to stomach you can take that in two ways. As in, this movie is shit, or this movie has a couple scenes that will make you cringe in your chair. This movie will definitely make you cringe in your chair.

Starring in the film is Colin Farrell as Steven Murphy, a cardiothoracic surgeon who befriends Martin (Barry Keoghan), a grieving young teenage boy whose father was lost on the operating table years ago when Steven performed surgery on him. Martin comes over for dinner and befriends the rest of the family, which includes Nicole Kidman as Steven’s wife, Anna, along with their children Bob and Kim (played by Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy).

Martin tries to repay the favor by asking Steven over to his house for dinner. He obliges, but then later, Martin’s mother makes sexual advances towards him, making him uncomfortable and eager to leave. Martin then tracks down Steven at the hospital where he works to let him know that he has placed a curse on Steven and that he must choose one of the members of his own family. As the curse moves forwards—including paralyzing Bob and Kim along with making them not eat—tension is built through the movie via a free-jazz style soundtrack that puts a cold sweat on the back of the viewer’s neck, leaving you anxious to have some resolution in the near future.

With dizzying camerawork and a stunning acting from the whole crew, this is one that will go on to make it into this year’s top 10 movies.

***

Creep 2

4 out of 5 stars

Found footage horror movies are something that filmmakers either hate deeply or love immensely. From The Blair Witch Project to V/H/S to Paranormal Activity, there have been some that rule the genre as well as those you can instantly forget came out.

From Mark Duplass (The League, Creep, and a lot of other amazing projects), Patrick Brice (Creep, The Overnight), and Jason Blum (CEO of Blumhouse Productions) comes the sequel to 2014’s Creep, a movie that you might have watched on Netflix in the wee hours of the night as you searched for something unique to watch. If you haven’t yet, make sure to go watch Creep now before you read anymore. It’s definitely worth watching.

Here, Sara is a videographer/blogger who has a YouTube series titled “Encounters” where she meets eccentric characters, ranging from people who like to cuddle to some who just want them to be in a hot tub with. From her not knowing what to do next and thinking of ending her series, Sara finds an ad where somebody has offered to $1,000 to film them for an entire day. Who that person is, Sara will then go on to figure out that is none other than, Aaron (Duplass), aka “Peach Fuzz.”

If you remember the first Creep then you might have had the same horrible dream of the character “Peach Fuzz” and how Mark Duplass can play a delightful, but yet sinister and terrifying murderer.

Aaron reveals to her that he is a depressed killer who feels like he is losing his momentum and passion, then invites Sara along for the ride that she definitely was not expecting. Sara soon goes toe-to-toe with Aaron via games and trying to be ahead of the curve as she documents her day with the murderer.

If you’re looking for something that will make you squirm, laugh, and say “what the fuck” out loud a lot, make sure you watch Creep 2, but only if you’ve seen Creep first.

 

 

ARCADE FIRE – The Reflektor Tapes: A Film By Kahil Joseph

Title: ARCADE FIRE - The Reflektor Tapes

Director: Kahil Joseph

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.eagle-rock.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Those only vaguely familiar with Arcade Fire and their proficiency for staying several steps ahead of the musical curve may not find further insight in this daring two disc documentary meant to showcase the band in concert and commentary.

Shot partially in black and white before segueing into color, the rapid scene switching, disjointed imaging, and schizophrenic cinematic set-ups all reinforce the unusual nature of their quirky indie pedigree. That leads less to accessibility and more towards a sense of general mayhem. As a backstage document it offers some opportunity for band members to speak candidly about the music and their involvement with the band, but the rapid shift from scene to scene compels the viewer to lean in order absorb all the sights and sounds. Disc two makes much more sense from a musical perspective, in that captures a complete concert and allows a continuous thread of music rather than simply a series of strange scenes that reflect an extreme psychedelic sensibility.

Given a sound that often verges on cosmic cacophony, that’s appropriate, but viewers might be best advised to become familiar the band’s song selection before subjecting themselves to a total sensory assault.

WATCH THE SON RISE: Big Star’s Third Live

“An emotional bond there.” (—Jody Stephens): A new concert documentary and accompanying live album document a key Big Star’s Third performance, bringing both catharsis and closure to a long grieving period that’s ultimately transformed into a celebration.

BY FRED MILLS, MICHAEL TOLAND & JOHN B. MOORE

It is, in a very real sense, a culmination. The new DVD/2CD release Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More (Concord Bicyle Music), that is, and a culmination of many things—the trajectory of the troubled (at times near-mythic) third Big Star studio album, originally recorded in 1974 but not released until years after the band had splintered; the subsequent Third (aka Sister Lovers) revival as pushed by Alex Chilton acolytes of the Amerindie ‘80s underground, chief among them members and intimates of The dB’s, whose Chris Stamey had also worked with Chilton; an eventual reunion of Big Star in the ‘90s, with two members of the Posies drafted to bolster Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens in the absence of bassist Andy Hummel and late guitarist Chris Bell—a reunion that came to a tragic end in 2010 when Chilton passed away from a heart attack on the eve of the band performing in Austin at SXSW, thereby ensuring that no one would ever get to hear Chilton himself perform Third; and of course Stamey’s ambitious Big Star’s Third live project, initially mounted at the tail end of 2010 as a concert tribute to the memory of Chilton, and going on to be intermittently staged in numerous cities and countries over the course of the next six years, to much acclaim.

So Big Star’s Third Live brings with it a whiff of finality. Clearly I don’t mean that there won’t be any more artifacts excavated from the vaults; for example, as a recent, exhaustive nine-disc bootleg collection demonstrates, there are a number of tracks that remain officially unreleased, even though the diligent archivists at Omnivore have done some impressive vault-digging themselves as regards material from the Third era. Nor am I suggesting that there won’t be any more live performances of Third or tribute concerts or even potential get-togethers between Stephens and Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer; all that and more is far more likely than not to go down in the future.

No, by “finality” I mean closure for all of us, a means by which to collectively grieve and celebrate, even for those not able to attend one of the live shows. Channeling both those emotions for us, Third Live mainstays Stamey, Stephens, Mitch Easter and Mike Mills—along with string players and a slew of guest vocalists that have included, since 2010, everyone from Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock and the two Posies, to Stamey’s North Carolina collaborators Brett Harris, Skyler Gudasz (both pictured above), and Django Haskins—brought the music vividly alive at the appropriately named Alex Theatre, in Glendale, Calif., almost exactly one year ago (April 27, 2016), for the camera lenses of director Benno Nelson. As you’ll read below in our  tag-team review treatment, it’s a cathartic home-viewing and –listening experience for any fan of Chilton and Big Star—and, I should add, Chris Bell as well, as Stamey (pictured, below) was mindful to include—and sing, with a gorgeous, emphatic grace—Bell’s timeless “I Am The Cosmos” in the Third Live performances.

It’s particularly gratifying for those of us here at BLURT. We’ve covered Big Star scores of times in the past, of course, via obituaries for both Chilton and Andy Hummel; reviewing the Third reissue as well as the Keep an Eye on the Sky career overview box set; covering and photographing the live Third concerts; writing about Holly George-Warren’s exhaustive biography of Chilton; interviewing Drew DeNicola, director of the 2012 Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me; and more. But the band is perhaps closest to our hearts because of the personal connection we’ve forged over time. Not just as fans of the records—yours truly has had the pleasure of interviewing and writing about Big Star in the past, additionally hanging out with Chilton many years ago (he even played my old acoustic guitar for the MTV cameras once upon a time); our publisher Stephen Judge, who is good friends with Stephens, Auer and Stringfellow, was at SXSW that March of 2010 when the news of Chilton’s death broke and, like so many other fans, he attended the impromptu Chilton tribute that unfolded in Austin in the days that followed; and we also hosted our own little Big Star tribute concert a few years later, also in Austin at SXSW, at our annual day party, wherein Stephens, Stringfellow and Auer, along with several guest players and singers, did a set of the music we all love so deeply. Even more recently, our photographer Sadie Claire attended the special Third concert at the 2017 SXSW; you can view her photo gallery from the festival, including numerous BST shots, here.

As Stephens told Rolling Stone not long after Chilton died, “I can’t see us going out [now] as Big Star… But I would hate to compound the loss of Alex by saying, ‘That’s it’ for Ken and Jon, too. I can’t imagine not playing with them. There’s so much fun—but an emotional bond there too.”

And for us too, Jody. It’s been a long—though not unwarranted—grieving period, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up again multiple times while watching the concert film.  Now, though, let’s celebrate. —Fred Mills, BLURT Editor

***

 Thank You, Friends: The CDs. You’d be hard pressed to find a band more beloved by fellow musicians and music writers while being wildly underrated by the record-buying public, than Memphis-based power pop band Big Star.

With a name that is savagely ironic, seeing as how none of their albums ever sold well on initial release—their debut was even called #1 Record!—and with the deaths of frontman Alex Chilton, guitarist Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel, drummer Jody Stephens is the only surviving founding member. In the decades since their three-record lifecycle from ’72-to-’78, the band has grown immensely in reputation, managing to become desert island album must-haves to many who now namecheck the band.

Given their place on the Mount Rushmore for fellow talented artists, Thank You, Friends come off more as a genuinely impressive love note to a favorite band rather than a cynical cash grab.

This two-CD set accompanying the concert documentary DVD includes a slew of Big Star fans, like members of Yo La Tengo, Wilco, R.E.M., Semisonic, the dB’s (notably Chris Stamey, the impetus behind the project) and Let’s Active, not to mention Robyn Hitchcock, joining Stephens on stage for an April 2016 show in Glendale, California, highlighting the band’s album Third/Sister Lovers. There are also some fantastic newcomers on the stage, like North Carolina’s Brett Harris and Skylar Gudasz, among others. The set also includes a handful of covers from the band’s first two records, like a beautiful take on “In the Street” and “September Gurls.” (Interestingly, the track sequence for the audio portion of the DVD/2CD package is a good bit different than the video, and it also includes “Back of a Car,” which does not appear on the DVD.)

Big Star may never have truly got the respect they deserved with the first go around, but Thank You, Friends is helping to right a few wrongs by bringing Big Star’s music to a broader audience. —John B. Moore, BLURT Senior Editor and Blogger

***

Thank You, Friends: The DVD. Though Big Star’s Third Live is no stranger to stages around the country, it’s still not a project seen by a whole lot of people. Thus the DVD portion of Thank You Friends affords many of us the first chance to see this mini-orchestra in action. And the band does not disappoint. No matter who is at the mic, whether relatively big stars (no pun intended) like R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Robyn Hitchcock, cult favorites like the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins and bandleaders Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, or up-and-comers like Brett Harris and Skyler Gudasz, everyone lets their love of the material shine through.

There’s no doubt how much the music of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell means to them—it’s right there on each and every face. Singer/songwriter Dan Wilson—late of Semisonic and probably the wealthiest person on the stage, thanks to co-writing Adele’s “Someone Like You”—seems particularly moved to be there, putting aside fame and fortune to pay beautiful tribute with “Give Me Another Chance” and “The Ballad of El Goodo.” Even Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who surprisingly looks like he’s out of his depth, still manages to inject, if not passion, as least conviction into “Kizza Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.”

But some of the less well-known names are responsible for the best performances. Mills may have gotten “September Gurls,” surely Big Star’s most famous song, but Gudasz delivers an absolutely lovely “Thirteen,” while Haskins brings the perfect amount of tension to the intense “Holocaust.” Harris, whose old-fashioned singer/songwriter pop springs directly from the Big Star legacy, handles “Kanga Roo” with a perfect balance of passion and vulnerability, looking like he might explode at any moment, but never actually doing it. Gudasz and Harris also serve as utility players, providing extra instruments and a ton of harmony vocals alongside nearly everyone else. Continuity with the Chilton era comes from Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who served in the revived Big Star in the ‘90s and ‘aughts, and original drummer Jody Stephens, who takes his turns in the spotlight (“Blue Moon” and “For You”) but otherwise stays with his drum kit, keeping perfect time on these songs he knows better than anyone.

With backdrops and lighting cues kept minimalist, the focus is purely on the performances, and that’s as it should be. Chilton and his band weren’t big on production numbers, and neither is this ensemble. So it’s only appropriate that, a few frankly inconsequential interviews aside, director Benno Nelson concentrates on capturing the music as it happens. No filter, no effects, nothing between the audience and this timeless rock music. —Michael Toland, BLURT Senior Editor & Blogger

***

Below, watch the official film trailer.

 

Incoming: Big Star’s Third Live CD/DVD

BS

Concert film will also be screened at SXSW.

By Blurt Staff

Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … And More gets released on April 21 via Concord Bicycle Music. A 90-minute concert film that will also have its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 16, it will be released as 2-CD/DVD or Blu-Ray combo pack, as well as a standalone, 2-CD album.

We’ve had quite a bit of coverage to date for the Chris Stamey-spearheaded Big Star’s Third project. You can check it out at the links below. For the released version, a core ensemble comprising Stamey, Big Star’s Jody Stephens, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), and the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer performed in April 2016 in Glendale, California. Directed by Benno Nelson of Yes Equals Yes, the film includes performances by Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone of Wilco, Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Wilson (Semisonic), Benmont Tench, Jessica Pratt, Brett Harris, Django Haskins, and Skylar Gudasz. Also on hand was a full chamber orchestra helmed by San Francisco’s acclaimed Kronos Quartet and conducted by Carl Marsh, who wrote the original orchestrations for Third/Sister Lovers.

 

Incidentally, in addition to the screening at SXSW, there will be a post-screening Q&A with Nelson, Jody Stephens, Mike Mills, Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow, and Skylar Gudasz. Then the next night, March 17, an orchestrated live concert by many of the core ensemble featured in Thank You, Friends will take place at the Central Presbyterian Church.

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SISTERS, LOVERS, FRIENDS, BROTHERS… COMRADES: Big Star Third Live in Chicago (exclusive photo gallery)

Big Star Third Album Gets Choice L.A. Show (preview of the Thank You Friends concert that was filmed)

BIG STAR – Complete Third  (review of the Big Star box set)

 

 

 

A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Title: A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Director: Shaun Colón

Release Date: December 13, 2016

www.afatwreck.com

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The Upshot: What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

You kind of expect going into a documentary about a record label, produced by that label, that it’s going to be little more than a glorified advertisement; propaganda for punk rockers, in this case. And that’s sort of true, with this film about the Northern California punk label Fat Wreck Chords. But the only thing that you can really expect with the label co-founder Fat Mike is that nothing can really be expected.

Yes, a lot of time in this movie is spent praising the bands that have filled the label’s roster going back decades (NOFX, Rise Against, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, among many, many others). And there are plenty of interviews with fellow rockers in bands like Bad Religion and The Vandals attesting to the fact that Mike was always a pretty determined punk, even as a young kid. But Fat Mike and the director of this doc leave plenty of time to talk about some of the labels criticisms as well, like the “Fat Wreck Sound” that many associate with its bands. The criticism is that many on the label started to adopt a cookie-cutter pop-punk sound thanks to the same producers and engineers many of the bands tended to favor. It’s this criticism in particular that seems to get under Fat Mike’s skin here the most. And while it would have been easy for the folks associated with this movie to gloss over it or take it out entirely, to their credit it’s here in all its awkward pauses and angry retorts.

There is also plenty of time in the doc devoted to the label’s Punk Voter movement launched by Fat Mike and the label in 2002, a failed effort to get young voters engaged in the political process to defeat George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Some of the more hardened anarchist punks mocked his efforts in trying to help Democrat John Kerry get elected, in particular, the Canadian band Propagandhi, who were on the Fat Wreck label at the time. Through interviews, the band talks about their disgust with the U.S. political systems and the label’s association with it at the time.

What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels to come out of California, thanks to an unflinching look at it from the filmmakers.

 

 

Last of the Mississippi Jukes

Title: Last of the Mississippi Jukes

Director: Robert Mugge

Release Date: October 21, 2016

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The Upshot: As much as a celebration as it is a eulogy: Though at times this documentary looks at the Mississippi blues scene grimly, you still feel grateful that director Robert Mugge at least took time to document that scene at its root. Even if it’s been fading for years, no true music lover will come away unmoved—and at times during the film, utterly exhilarated. Above: Mugge in the film with Irma Thomas and Morgan Freeman at the latter’s jukejoint.

BY JASON GROSS

In 2006, a Mississippi trip provided me with sumptuous culinary highlights but mixed musical highlights. The Howlin’ Wolf Blues Museum had opened the year before in West Point and the Blues Festival done in Wolf’s name provided a great tribute including his long-time guitarist, the late Hubert Sumlin. The Delta Blues Museum stood as a large expanded former freight depot in Clarksdale, with its doors open since ’99, and just down the road from Ground Zero, a blues club co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, which started out only two years after that. Fitting that both places are also adjacent to the fabled crossroads when highways 61 and 49 meet. Unfortunately, both places were closed the days we visited so we made due with the 930 Blues Cafe in Jackson, a small suburban house that had comfort food and an older gent playing electric piano, as well as a stop at the Club Ebony in Indianola (purchased two years later by local legend B.B. King) which featured a band rehearsing ‘80s pop tunes- it didn’t necessarily feel down home in either place. But there was also plenty of mouth-watering, sauce-slathered barbecue there that any Northerner would kill for or weep in shame at the fake shit for passes for food above the Mason-Dixon Line.

A trip four years before that would have revealed another music landmark and cultural hub- the Subway Lounge in Jackson. Opened in ’66 by bandleader Jimmy King as a basement club in a black-owned hotel, Subway was a somewhat spiffier version of the blues clubs, aka juke joints, which featured local talent and all-night jams. It also a Souther stop for nationally-known R&B acts like James Brown and Jackie Wilson who would pass through (not to mention the Civil Rights Freedom Riders in the early ‘60s).

When director Robert Mugge (also responsible for 1991’s wonderful Deep Blues doc) showed up in 2002 to document the local scene, Subway was on its last legs while Ground Zero was just starting out. As such, his now-reissued 2003 documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes is as much as a celebration as it is a eulogy. (Go to Mugge’s website for details, photos, and more.)

“We (as Americans) are doing more to preserve European classical music than we are to preserving American classical music” Freeman laments early in the film and you can’t help but think that race is involved there. Still, Freeman and club co-owner Bill Lockett did their part to keep the tradition alive and help rebuild Clarksdale by opening Madidi Restaurant and Ground Zero, where they took care to recreate the look and feel of the old time jukes with Christmas lights, beer signs and pool tables (and a sign that says “no, no, no, no out of town checks!”). Freeman himself grew up in Greenwood (1 hour south of the club) and wasn’t allowed to visit those ‘bucket of blood’ places where the blues wailed out of, though he would sneak out anyway to visit. As he recalls in the film, decades before that, field hands would come off back-breaking broiling days picking cotton to blow off steam and congregate in these small shacks.

“Sometimes people are ashamed of who they are- they wanna run away from that,” another actor tells us later in the film. Chris Thomas King was featured in the Coen brothers’ (arguably best) movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, playing a blues man, as he’s done off screen for years now. Thomas knows of what he speaks of, and not just in his own career- his dad ran Tabby’s Blues Box, which also closed its doors. Indeed, Mississippi comes up woefully short on cultivating its own musical history when compared to states like Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. Truth be told, New York, Chicago and other northern cities are also pretty pitiful when it comes to toasting their own local talent. (Pictured: Mugge with musician Chris Thomas King.)mugge-chris-thomas-king

Speaking of pitiful, the scenes that Mugge documents at the Subway Lounge are especially disheartened when we learn its rich history and how even when it was nearing its coda, it was still a vibrant place to soak up the area talent. Co-owner King started the Lounge because other clubs would close early and musicians craved a place they could play into the wee hours of the morning- as such, it was not just a musical hub but also a place where musicians bonded and felt a kinship with each other. The Lounge was also crucial to the scene because as racially divided as the city was, the club was a place where races intermingled seamlessly otherwise. The racial mixers extended to the club’s own group, the House Rockers. Alongside the Rockers, the King Edwards Blues Band alternated as the house group, with other acts sitting in on gigs all the time. For a meager five bucks, you could experience its musical treasures and wash it down with a bucket of beer (recommended since there were no waiters) and a ‘blues dog’ sausage loaded with onions, chili, relish and peppers.

But there was a money-sucking cloud hanging over Subway in the form of a casino, which in addition to the slots and card games also had its own club to draw in local acts which would enjoy a better sound system and more pay if not the devoted crowd they’d find otherwise. Bigger name area venues also tried to glom off the historic music scene, offering the same amenities and better able to cash in on it. Wanna guess how the half-dozen or so juke joints around then fared against the big boys?

Mugge tells the discouraging tale of Subway and the scene through the eyes of area musicians who are best known to hardcore blues fans but definitely deserve more recognition. The performers also provide us with useful context, history and insight, including Vasti Johnson and Steve Cheeseborough, alongside historian Richard Waterman. Other times, we get the story from the songs themselves, including Jackson’s “Casino in the Cottonfield,” Greg Taylor’s “Subway Swing” and David Hughes, who provides the title song of the movie. To give us a taste of the scene, we also see Subway performances from noted songwriter George Jackson (“Cheating in the Next Room”), singer Patrice Moncell (aka Queen of the Blues), Bobby Rush (whose woman ran off with the “Garbage Man”; view a clip below) and Alvin Youngblood Hart (probably the biggest name here, performing solo and with a trio) among others.

But even with the rich pool of talent, the club had to contend not only with the casino but also highway construction, bureaucratic red tape and not enough props from the local government. A campaign to save Subway coalesced with a non-profit org backed by the local paper, some councilmen and donated labor in recognition of not just the music history but also the building’s connections to the Civil Rights movement. At the end of the film, we see a title panel showing us contact info for the Save the Subway fund and a dedication to Helen King (Jimmy’s wife) who ran Subway with him and died shorted after the filming ended.

In the postscript included as an extra with the recent DVD reissue, we get an update where we see Harris standing in front of crane taking down the dilapidated building in hopes of ultimately rebuilding the place. But there wasn’t enough money to cover the repairs which led to more demolition and flooding. Ultimately, Subway held its last show in April 2003, closing its doors the following month and the rest of the building was demolished the following year. As a post-postscript, further info reveals that the highway came into place and the spot where Subway stood is now a grassy, empty lot with a plaque commemorating the club.

A mixed fate, at best, was in store for the other clubs there. While Ground Zero still hosts shows from Wednesdays through the weekend, Madidi restaurant went under in 2012, 930 Cafe closed about five years ago and Club Ebony is only open for special events. Another local juke joint a half hour south of Clarksdale called Po Monkey’s (which dates back to ’61) is now in limbo since its owner recently died. On the plus side, the Delta Blues Museum just got one and a half million dollars to upgrade their exhibits (which means that the state boosts history but not the here/now) and the Wolf festival now lives on as the Black Prairie Blues Festival. Local writer/educator George Light reports that Clarksdale still has its share of music thanks to area festivals and that some of the Subway acts congregated around a restaurant two hours south of Clarksdale (near where the 930 Blues Cafe stood) for a blues night until the eatery also went belly up about five years ago.

Though Mugge’s doc paints a grim picture, you feel grateful that at least he took time to document the Mississippi blues scene at its root, even if it’s been fading for years.

Luckily, if you wanna support the scene, you have some options- you can boost the Delta Blues Museum at http://www.deltabluesmuseum.org, the Blues Foundation (based in Memphis) at http://blues.org, and the Mississippi Blues Foundation & its Blues Trail at http://www.msbluestrail.org. If there’s enough backing, maybe Mugge could do a sunnier follow-up doc.

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