The Circle Jerks – My Career As A Jerk (MVD Visual)

The Circle Jerks finally get the documentary treatment here, helmed by director Dave Markey (best known for 1991: The Year Punk Broke). Archival footage, band interviews and testimonials give the history of the band who made one of hardcore punk’s greatest albums (Group Sex), but never really knew what to do next. While the oldest footage shows The Circle Jerks at their jaw-dropping best, for me the most enjoyable part of the movie is those lean late-’80s and early-’90s years when the band put out awful albums while cycling through a parade of band members, musical styles, and personal issues. Perhaps there isn’t anything special enough in the Circle Jerks’ story to warrant the 96-minute runtime it’s been given, but the story of the pre-Nirvana American Underground is always entertaining enough that you can overlook the film’s weaker spots. Speaking of entertaining, Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris is at his nervous/intense self-reflective best in his interviews here. How he hasn’t been tapped for some kind of TV/film/radio work is a mystery to me. Even if it’s not perfect, if you love the old days of hardcore punk, My Career As A Jerk is a joy to watch.

Bonus features: Deleted scenes and interviews. Trailers.

Dinosaur Jr. – Bug Live At The 9:30 Club: In The Hands Of The Fans (MVD Visual)

This is an appealing concept: Dinosaur Jr. performing Bug in its entirety at DC’s 9:30 Club (one of the best venues on the East Coast) filmed by six mega-fans. The first thing you’ll notice is how tight the band sounds and how well the DVD captures that sound. Seriously, forget about live shows…most bands would kill to sound this crisp in the studio! J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph look a lot older since Bug came out in 1988 (Mascis in particular looks like Gandalf’s beer-drinking younger brother) but they’ve retained every ounce of their youthful energy. Everyone in the band does their part to make the songs sound great: Murph is a strong drummer, and Barlow plays the affable indie-punk on bass, but for me the biggest treat is watching Mascis’ fluid high-volume solos. Having never had the opportunity to see Dinosaur Jr. live for myself, I can only imagine the kind of air-moving effect the band must have had in a club like the 9:30.

You might remember that Bug was only thirty-two minutes long, which would be pretty skimpy for a concert, and a bad value for a DVD purchase. Well, for starters there’s a two song non-Bug encore (“Sludgefeast” and “Raisans”), and another two songs from the same show included as bonus features. There’s also a twenty-minute segment with Mascis, Murph and Barlow talking to Henry Rollins, which is an interesting experiment (Rollins interviewed them prior to each night’s show on the East Coast leg of the Bug tour) but also awkward since Mascis, by all accounts Dinosaur Jr’s leader, doesn’t say much. Rollins shouldn’t take it personally though: he doesn’t talk much during the concert either, preferring to follow the teachings of Aerosmith and “let the music do the talking.” There’s also a backstage interview with the six fans who shot the concert, a clip of Henry Rollins talking about the history of The 9:30 Club, and an interview with J (who, yet again, barely says anything) and director Dave Markey sharing interesting stories from the band’s past. Well done.

The Story Of The Yardbirds (ABC Entertainment)

This documentary covers the quick rise and even quicker fall of The Yardbirds from 1963-1968. The band’s history hasn’t been rehashed as frequently as some of their more famous peers, so the information presented here – taken from interviews with band members, managers and producers – feels fresh and exciting. The DVD also benefits from excellent live clips, which show the band’s origins as a merely OK blues-rock band, but then really catching fire when Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton on guitar and pushed them forward towards a more aggressive and experimental sound (compare the version of “I Wish You Would” with Clapton to the one with Beck…Beck’s kills). When Jeff Beck left and Jimmy Page took over, the band gained an even better guitar player, but Page was actually too good, running circles around the rest of the band, who struggled to keep up with him. When they broke up in 1968 Page was already experimenting with some of the ideas that would later become the foundation for Led Zeppelin. Still, don’t let rock history paint The Yardbirds as just a starting-point for three great guitar players – The Story Of The Yardbirds proves they were a great, and highly influential, band in their own right. The only negative is the lame booklet which talks mostly about the recently reformed Yardbirds (who aren’t mentioned in the movie), and the back cover where “For Your Love” is erroneously called “For The Love.”

The New York Dolls – All Dolled Up (Music Video Distributors)

In an age when Franz Ferdinand puts out a two-disc DVD set after only two albums, it’s easy to forget how little footage exists of the great performers of rock’s past, and that’s what makes this DVD such a revelation. Culled from over forty hours shot by famed rock photographer Bob Gruen on an early black and white video camera, All Dolled Up includes great live performances, interviews, candid backstage footage, and a lot of preening in front of mirrors.

Although the video and audio are far from pristine, this is still an important release for Dolls fans. Because Gruen was friends with the band, he had full access to film them at all times, capturing the true essence of a band that most people have never seen much of outside of a few photos. He captures the drunken buffoonery, the backstage groupies and, most hilariously, the looks of outrage the band got from “straight society”.

The bonus features don’t disappoint either. You can watch the performances from the film in an unedited form, an interview between Bob Gruen and Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, look at Gruen’s photos of the band with accompanying commentary, and see Gruen, Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen doing a commentary track. All in all, it’s a handsome package and kudos to Music Video Distributors for putting out yet another important piece of American rock history.

The Kinks – You Really Got Me: The Story Of The Kinks (ABC Entertainment)

The DVD should’ve been interesting, especially for a band like The Kinks, whose story hasn’t been milked as dry as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who…etc. Somewhere things went terribly wrong. Most of the ninety-minute run-time is pissed away with grainy live footage, mostly from two shows – one from the band’s early days and one from the turn of the ‘80s. Things only get worse when the announcer tells the band’s story in perhaps the most grating voice in the history of professional broadcasting. Worse, the voice-over content is chronologically mismatched with the footage on screen. For example, when discussing the Kinks mid-‘60s ban on touring in America, footage of the band from the ‘80s is shown on-screen and the song “Celluloid Heroes” – from 1972 – is heard. Chronological accuracy hasn’t been so blatantly disregarded since Timecop. It’s almost impossible to learn anything from this awful rip-off.

Style Wars Revisited (Public Art Films)

Style Wars may not be about music per-se, but rather it’s a look at the roots of hip-hop culture. The documentary, which originally appeared on PBS, explores the rise of graffiti on the New York City subway lines, as well as break-dancing and rapping. Through interviews with the major writers of the time we learn how the artistic techniques of “tagging up” developed and what motivated so many inner-city kids to get into a dangerous and illegal hobby (mostly fame and notoriety). Although many New Yorkers saw graffiti as a nuisance, the writers got the last laugh as many parlayed graffiti into successful art careers. The original film is just sixty-nine minutes so this DVD thankfully offers up a host of crucial bonuses such as the thirty-four minute “Style Wars: Revisited” which catches up with some of the writers twenty years later – surprisingly, many are still passionate about graffiti and some are even still writing! Other bonuses include four new interviews with writers from the film, a somewhat incongruous Aesop Rock video, and a thirty-minute loop of old graffiti masterpieces called Destroy All Lines. Style Wars is essential for fans of graffiti, old hip-hop or inner-city culture

Oasis – Lord Don’t Slow Me Down (Universal Records)

It’s been over a decade since Oasis’ commercial and creative peak, so a documentary from the group’s 2005/6 World Tour is a curious move – like documenting the Rolling Stones on The Steel Wheels tour. Still, watching the Gallagher brothers go through a litany of fistfights, drugs, alcohol, and slagging off other bands has always been fun, so why not film it? Oddly enough, director Baillie Walsh misses that side of the band in Lord Don’t Slow Me Down. Perhaps everyone behaved for the cameras, or maybe the band have reached a point where they would rather be known for music than tabloid fodder. Fair enough if that’s the case, but it’s hard to defend the merits of a film where nothing terribly interesting happens. Instead, we follow them through a seemingly never-ending series of hotel rooms, buses, planes, banal questions from radio hosts, backstage dressing rooms, and stadium stages. It’s interesting to watch for Oasis’ fans (and judging from the size of the venues they play, there’s still a ton of them out there), and the Gallagher brothers spew a few fine quotes, but as a tour documentary, it doesn’t go anywhere Radiohead’s Meeting People Is Easy didn’t already go. The second disc is a sixteen-song live set from a 2005 Manchester gig. The songs run the gamut from old hits to new album tracks, with a cover of The Who’s “My Generation” thrown in at the end. The band plays like a tight unit, and the crowd eats it all up with gusto, proving that, although they’ll probably never generate raw excitement like they did in the mid-90’s, Oasis are quite good at being a professional stadium-rock group.

The MC5 – Kick Out The Jams DVD (Music Video Distributors)

Music Video Distributors, with a little help from the recently resurrected Creem magazine, continue their string of solid archival DVDs with this MC5 release. True to the original artistic spirit of The MC5 this is no simple regurgitation of old footage. Instead, the film’s creators, Leni Sinclair and Cary Loren (who also co-founded Destroy All Monsters), reconstruct rare video footage of the band into a new visual experience. There’s live clips of the band pulsating with a fervor and energy that seems almost superhuman, plus random shots of hippies and classic psychedelic visual effects, mixed together to create a fascinating time capsule of the late-1960s. Of course, it’s accompanied by live audio of the band’s revolutionary mix of Chuck Berry, The Who, The Troggs, Sun Ra, and Jimi Hendrix. Though no concert dates or locations are given, the songs are mostly from Kick Out The Jams so one would assume the audio is from that period too. If you’ve never heard The MC5, start your education with their albums, as this is for seasoned fans only. The sound quality is decent at best, and the visuals are occasionally unprofessional (some clips repeat several times). But for those already familiar with the MC5, this is a great opportunity to dive deeper into the band and the heady times that spawned them.

Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf – The Other Side: Los Angeles (Deaf, Dumb and Blind Records)

This is the fifth installment of Time Out’s Other Side CD/DVD series, where an artist is invited to put together a mix-CD that represents their city, and also take viewers a video tour of some of their favorite local spots. The focus is on Los Angeles, with Madlib doing the musical honors while Stones Throw main-man Peanut Butter Wolf plays tour-guide on the DVD. The CD mixes tracks that fall well within the Madlib/Stones Throw aesthetic: funk rarities, smoked-out reggae from lesser-known artists like Prince Jazzbo and Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, eccentric jazz numbers, hip-hop, and a few of Madlib’s own creations. I’m not sure what some of these tracks have to do with Los Angeles (Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War” for example), but that’s OK because they’re all interesting and ‘lib seamlessly blends the intros and outros. If nothing else, the wigged-out vibe is a testament to the high quality of pot you can get out there. The DVD is less vital. If you’ve ever longed for the day when you could watch Peanut Butter Wolf shop for sneakers, that day has finally come! Otherwise, not much to see here. It isn’t an entire loss for music fans though – Wolf talks about the history of Stones Throw and there’s videos from some of the label’s artists.
1. The Lightmen Plus One – Energy Control Center
2. Cybertron – Clear
3. Kat – Game Over
4. Steve Grossman – Inmate Man
5. Prince Jazzbo – Blood Dunza
6. Sun Ra Arkestra – Nuclear War
7. Quasimoto – Greenery
8. Outlaw Blues Band – Deep Gully
9. Madlib – Infinity (*exclusive track*)
10. Leeroy “Horsemouth” Wallace – Herb Vendor
11. Rhythm Machine – Freakish Love
12. Mark Murphy – Sly
13. Harris & Orr – Spread Love
14. MED feat. Poke – What I Do
15. Beat Konducta – Smog Theme
16. Jaylib – Survival Test
17. Freestyle Fellowship – Park Bench People


Johnny Thunders – In Concert: Who’s Been Talkin’? (MVD Visual)

This DVD comes from a 1991 Thunders concert in Osaka, the last show recorded before his mysterious death in New Orleans that year. The picture quality isn’t great, but the audio is solid, as Thunders and his group slash through twenty-two songs in 100 minutes. Thunders’ voice and guitar are spot on (somewhat surprising, given his reputation), but the show is more like a glossy soul revue than the white-hot sweaty rock show you would want from him. There’s way too many rock standards on the set-list, and not enough of the prime Heartbreakers/NY Dolls material that cemented Thunders’ reputation as a guitar hero among early punks. Couple that with unnecessary solo turns from a female back-up singer, and overzealous sax playing on almost every song, and you’re left with a merely decent DVD you’d trade in a heartbeat for the recent NY Dolls DVD (also released on MVD).