Grant Gee’s Joy Division

Joy Division movie poster


Grant Gee’s doc­u­men­tary Joy Divi­sion cov­ers the all-too-brief his­to­ry of the epony­mous post-punk band from Man­ches­ter. Joy Divi­sion was trag­i­cal­ly short-lived, only com­plet­ing two albums before lead singer Ian Cur­tis’ sui­cide in 1980, but dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly influ­en­tial. Their sound is all over the ear­ly U2 albums Boy and Octo­ber, and the con­tem­po­rary band Inter­pol made a career of emu­lat­ing Joy Division’s sound.

Gee sets the scene of late 1970s Man­ches­ter as a grimy hell­hole in which “there’s noth­ing pret­ty.” The core mem­bers of the band are per­verse­ly inspired by a Sex Pis­tols con­cert (their review: “shite, a car crash”) to form their own band. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er and film­mak­er Anton Cor­bi­jn took some of the most mem­o­rable por­traits of the band. Used to Holland’s health care sys­tem, he was shocked to see such pover­ty in Eng­land. He describes Joy Divi­sion as under­nour­ished and shiv­er­ing in their thin coats.

Joy Division by Anton Corbijn
Mal­nour­ished and shiv­er­ing in their thin coats: a famous por­trait of Joy Divi­sion by Anton Cor­bi­jn

Gee also inter­views Peter Sav­ille, the graph­ic design­er that cre­at­ed the remark­ably stark album sleeves that were almost as influ­en­tial as the music itself. Tony Wil­son (a col­or­ful char­ac­ter who was the sub­ject of Michael Winterbottom’s fan­tas­tic biopic 24 Hour Par­ty Peo­ple) was an ear­ly cham­pi­on, in between his duties as host of the TV show “So It Goes” and Fac­to­ry Records impre­sario. Cur­tis’ wid­ow Deb­o­rah does not seem to have par­tic­i­pat­ed, but her side of the sto­ry appears in the excel­lent biopic Con­trol (read The Dork Report review), co-pro­duced by her and direct­ed by Cor­bi­jn.

Cur­tis is described as a reg­u­lar lad who fre­quent­ly bought flow­ers for his wife. In oth­er words, the oppo­site of punk. But he’s also char­ac­ter­ized as “bipo­lar,” moody and unpre­dictable even before his epilep­sy man­i­fest­ed itself in fre­quent, dra­mat­ic grand mal seizures. His sin­gu­lar stage pres­ence was marked by a pecu­liar form of dance inspired by his seizures (that he some­times actu­al­ly did expe­ri­ence on stage). The nec­es­sary drug treat­ments caused huge mood swings, fur­ther com­pro­mis­ing his already unsteady men­tal health. Cur­tis con­tin­ued his day job assist­ing dis­abled peo­ple for the Civ­il Ser­vice even as the band was tak­ing off. In a heart­break­ing bit of syn­chronic­i­ty, his clas­sic song “She’s Lost Con­trol” is about an epilep­tic girl he met though his work.

Ian Cur­tis of Joy Divi­sion

Grant Gee’s clear exper­tise is musi­cal doc­u­men­tary. His 1998 film Meet­ing Peo­ple is Easy famous­ly cap­tures Radio­head break­ing through to mass pop­u­lar­i­ty as their 1998 album OK Com­put­er is almost uni­ver­sal­ly declared the album of the year. The frank film shows emo­tion­al­ly frag­ile Thom Yorke almost phys­i­cal­ly recoil­ing from fame, but receiv­ing wise coun­sel from men­tor Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Gee also co-direct­ed the excel­lent 2005 Goril­laz con­cert film Demon Days Live at the Man­ches­ter Opera House, bet­ter even than the stu­dio album that pre­ced­ed it. Both films have per­ma­nent spots in The Dork Report’s DVD shelf.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:


Daniel Lanois: Here Is What Is

Here Is What Is movie poster


Daniel Lanois is a unique musi­cian, as gift­ed a singer-song­writer in his own right as he is a col­lab­o­ra­tor and pro­duc­er. I orig­i­nal­ly came to rec­og­nize his name after find­ing it list­ed in the cred­its of many key items in The Dork Report’s for­mi­da­ble music col­lec­tion, includ­ing Peter Gabriel’s So and Us, U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, and Bob Dylan’s Oh Mer­cy and Time Out of Mind. His 1993 solo album For the Beau­ty of Wynona remains an all-time per­son­al favorite.

The fea­ture doc­u­men­tary Here Is What Is pre­miered at the Toron­to Film Fes­ti­val in 2007, direct­ed by Lanois, Adam Samuels, and Adam Vol­lick. It cap­tures the record­ing of the album of the same name, but also serves as a kind of ret­ro­spec­tive and mis­sion state­ment. Con­ver­sa­tions between Lanois and ear­ly men­tor (now equal) Bri­an Eno punc­tu­ate the film. Lanois states to Eno his inten­tions for the movie: to cre­ate a film about the beau­ty of music, not every­thing that sur­rounds it (which I took to mean hagiog­ra­phy, celebri­ty gos­sip, and the some­times tedious behind-the-sceens doc­u­men­ta­tion typ­i­cal of the genre). Eno sug­gests that his film should try to show peo­ple that art often grows out of noth­ing, or from the sim­plest of seeds in the right sit­u­a­tions, not from what out­siders might assume are the mirac­u­lous inspi­ra­tions of alleged­ly bril­liant or gift­ed artistes.

Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno in Here Is What IsDaniel Lanois and Bri­an Eno record­ing their new ambi­ent mas­ter­work, “Music for Stair­cas­es”

Lanois is Cana­di­an by birth, but has a spe­cial affin­i­ty for the Amer­i­can South, espe­cial­ly New Orleans. He cred­its New Orleans for the orig­i­nal sen­su­al groove that formed the basis of rock music. Per­haps intend­ed as a visu­al echo of this the­o­ry, the stun­ning­ly beau­ti­ful Car­oli­na Ceriso­la often appears danc­ing in her scant­ies.

Lanois details his long­time, fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion with drum­mer Bri­an Blade. Leg­endary key­boardist of The Band, Garth Hud­son, also joins them in the stu­dio for some tru­ly awe­some per­for­mances. One of my favorite sequences inter­cuts between “The Mak­er” per­formed by Lanois’ band live in stu­dio, cov­ered by Willie Nel­son and Emmy­lou Har­ris, and Lanois’ band live on stage. Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton, still friends from col­lab­o­rat­ing on the score to Sling Blade in 1996, drops in for a vis­it. We catch excit­ing glimpses of record­ing U2’s forth­com­ing album (since chris­tened No Line on the Hori­zon, to be released in Feb­ru­ary 2009) with Eno and Steve Lil­ly­white.

Daniel Lanois in Here Is What IsWhich but­ton dials down Bono’s ego?

Lanois names a pri­mar­i­ly influ­ence to be the Jimi Hen­drix Expe­ri­ence, which he describes as a fair­ly straight­for­ward rock trio but with ambi­tious, exper­i­men­tal pro­duc­tion. He describes how he him­self approach­es pro­duc­tion, in just one word: “feel.” He report­ed­ly had a con­tentious rela­tion­ship with Dylan in the stu­dio, but the resul­tant albums are clas­sics, and Dylan affirmed that “you can’t buy ‘feel.’” Anoth­er Lanois apho­rism, “max­i­mize the room,” means to make the most of what you have, rather than invite guest musi­cians or order up more equip­ment.

Here Is What Is fea­tures full per­for­mances of songs, which is espe­cial­ly wel­come com­pared to two recent music doc­u­men­taries recent­ly screened by The Dork Report: Low in Europe (read The Dork Report review) and You May Need a Mur­der­er (read The Dork Report review), which both shy away from actu­al­ly show­ing Low per­form. Here Is What Is’s visu­als are some­times com­pro­mised with cheesy video effects. The film is at its best when sim­ply fol­low­ing the hyp­not­ic move­ments of Lanois’ hands on his ped­al steel gui­tar.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Low: You May Need a Murderer

Low You May Need a Murderer


It may seem overkill for the so-called slow­core band Low to be the sub­ject of anoth­er doc­u­men­tary fea­ture film only a mere four years after Low in Europe, but it must be because they’re just so inter­est­ing. Film­mak­er David Kleijwegt’s You May Need a Mur­der­er could just as well be titled Low in Amer­i­ca, as he speaks with found­ing mem­bers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Park­er at home in Duluth, Min­neso­ta, and on tour across Amer­i­ca in sup­port of the Drums & Guns album. The key char­ac­ter­is­tics of that record are what most inform the film: Sparhawk’s mood post-ner­vous break­down, and Low’s most overt­ly expressed social and polit­i­cal com­men­tary yet. Low had also just adopt­ed a new bass play­er, Matt Liv­ingston, after Zak Sally’s long tenure, but he does not par­tic­i­pate (he’s only bare­ly glimpsed, even in live onstage footage).

You May Need a Mur­der­er is a much more sat­is­fy­ing film over­all than Low in Europe. Whether by their own desire to open up or by Kleijwegt’s per­sua­sive inter­view skills, Sparhawk and Park­er are notably more can­did and direct, espe­cial­ly on the top­ic of their faith. Which is exact­ly what one would sin­gle out as the most inter­est­ing thing about Low: Sparhawk and Park­er are a mar­ried Mor­mon cou­ple that that tithe a tenth of all their income to the church. I sup­pose Low might belong in that rare cat­e­go­ry of bands whose music is often char­ac­ter­ized by reli­gious beliefs, like the often overt­ly Chris­t­ian U2, but would nev­er be filed under “Inspi­ra­tional” in record stores. Unlike U2’s joy­ous hymns and opti­mistic calls to activism, Low’s inspi­ra­tions are con­sid­er­ably more dark and apoc­a­lyp­tic.

Low You May Need a Murderer

When Low gets polit­i­cal they do so with a vengeance. Sparhawk is in despair over America’s econ­o­my and pol­i­tics, and has long believed that the world may reach a cri­sis point in his life­time (he stops short of pre­dict­ing it will actu­al­ly “end”). Sparhawk’s gen­uine beliefs gives him the real author­i­ty to crit­i­cize George W. Bush’s claim to faith. The title song “You May Need a Mur­der­er” is sung from the point of view of one who goes before his god and asks to be used as a war­rior. It becomes clear that the speak­er is in effect star­ing into a mir­ror, bring­ing his own bag­gage to an imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion, and jus­ti­fy­ing his own dark impuls­es. Sparhawk is, need­less to say, talk­ing about self-pro­claimed men of faith like Bush and Tony Blair. The song is utter­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, and rais­es the hairs on the back of my neck every time. It may be the ulti­mate state­ment on the top­ic, and does not com­pare favor­ably to the sim­i­lar­ly-themed song by Bright Eyes, “When the Pres­i­dent Talks to God.”

The most sur­pris­ing per­son­al top­ic to come up is Sparhawk’s appar­ent ner­vous break­down in 2005. We see Sparhawk appear­ing very ner­vous back­stage before a show, but oth­er­wise func­tion­al. But he describes him­self as hav­ing been “clin­i­cal­ly delu­sion­al” at the point of his break­down, and while hav­ing nom­i­nal­ly recov­ered, he also cops to being a drug addict. To him, the biggest con­flict these two aspects of his life have is with his reli­gion.

Must Read: The Speed of Silence review

Must Read: Pop­Mat­ters review

Offi­cial Low site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

26 Albums I’m Told I Should Remove From My Collection

100albums2.jpgThe author, with some of the offend­ing arti­cles

Chalkills, the XTC fan­site, wants to help you sift through the detri­tus of your music col­lec­tion, pron­to: One Hun­dred Albums You Should Remove from Your Col­lec­tion Imme­di­ate­ly (spot­ted on DGM­Live).

I own (or once owned) a whop­ping 26% of these over­rat­ed (so they say) canon­i­cal clas­sics! Hey, Chalkhills, what did I ever do to you? I love XTC (Apple Venus and Wasp Star being two of my all-time favorite albums, hands-down), so my tastes can’t be all bad, can they? But hav­ing read your list, I find that for every one of your selec­tions that brings steam out of my ears, there’s anoth­er with which I have to begrudg­ing­ly agree.

So here’s my anno­tat­ed list, includ­ing, for fun, the for­mat in which I pur­chased each offend­ing title and whether or not I even­tu­al­ly dis­card­ed it:

U2 - The Joshua Tree
2. U2 — The Joshua Tree
20th Anniver­sary Edi­tion boxed set
U2’s true mas­ter­piece Achtung Baby was yet to come, but the com­plex depth of that record wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble with­out the uniron­ic earnest­ness of The Joshua Tree. And yes, maybe I’m a snob (not to men­tion old) for upgrad­ing to the remas­tered anniver­sary edi­tion, but just the oth­er day I lis­tened to the revived record­ing of “Moth­ers of the Dis­ap­peared” with my jaw lit­er­al­ly hang­ing open and the prover­bial chills run­ning up and down my spine.

Nirvana - Nevermind
3. Nir­vana — Nev­er­mind
cas­sette (dis­card­ed)
It was a gift, I swear. While I intel­lec­tu­al­ly under­stand what the mass-mar­ket break­through of Nir­vana did for music (basi­cal­ly, spark­ing a fresh explo­sion of so-called “alter­na­tive” music com­pa­ra­ble to punk’s effect on a stag­nant world of dis­co and sta­di­um rock in the ear­ly 1970s), I always pre­ferred the rock ‘n’ roll songcraft of Pearl Jam to the loud ‘n’ slop­py depres­sion of Nir­vana.

The Beatles - Let It Be
5. The Bea­t­les — Let It Be
cd, The “Naked” ver­sion
Any antipa­thy towards the Bea­t­les seems a bit strange com­ing from an XTC fan­site — sure­ly Andy Par­tridge and Col­in Mould­ing are acolytes. Do I still have to dis­card Let It Be if I own the McCart­ney-approved “Naked” edi­tion, as opposed to the orig­i­nal with Wall-of-Schmaltz orches­tral over­dubs by Phil Spec­tor? Let it Be is not my favorite Bea­t­les long-play­er (that would def­i­nite­ly be The White Album), and obvi­ous­ly one the lads tossed off at the tail end of their (actu­al­ly quite brief) asso­ci­a­tion. But how is that any dif­fer­ent, real­ly, from their ear­ly quick­ie LPs record­ed in mere hours with the aid of amphet­a­mines?

The Police - Synchronicity
7. The Police — Syn­chronic­i­ty
cas­sette (dis­card­ed)
I agree with Chalkhills’ assess­ment that Syn­chronic­i­ty is a sur­pris­ing­ly dark album for a main­stream plat­inum hit, but I believe that’s exact­ly what makes it spe­cial. What oth­er band, at the peak of their com­mer­cial suc­cess, released such a para­noid, neu­rot­ic album? OK, maybe Radiohead’s Kid A.

Lou Reed - Transformer
8. Lou Reed — Trans­former
Agreed. “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satel­lite of Love” are both mas­ter­pieces, but I couldn’t name a sin­gle oth­er song from the album. Am I redeemed by own­ing the vinyl edi­tion? It must be said that it earns extra Cool Points for being pro­duced by David Bowie, but the back cov­er pho­to­graph of Lou with the bon­er in his tight jeans is just plain gross.

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
9. Miles Davis — Bitch­es Brew
Com­plete Bitch­es Brew Ses­sions boxed set
Yes, I am that poseur that owns the Com­plete Ses­sions boxed set. I have to very, very strong­ly object to Chalkhills’ dis­missal here (and I do I detect a strong anti-jazz bias?). Miles changed music for­ev­er when he plugged in to rock, fusion, and funk. Try­ing to pre­tend Bitch­es Brew nev­er hap­pened is as fruit­less as still com­plain­ing about Bob Dylan going rock (or coun­try, or Chris­t­ian, etc…) or The Sex Pis­tols giv­ing the world the fin­ger. The dif­fer­ence is that it still sounds fresh and new.

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
12. Led Zep­pelin — Phys­i­cal Graf­fi­ti
I love me some Zep­pelin, but I have to agree that Phys­i­cal Graf­fi­ti isn’t a keep­er. It is, how­ev­er, bet­ter than its fol­low-up Pres­ence (but that’s not say­ing much).

Beck - Midnite Vultures
19. Beck — Mid­nite Vul­tures
cd (sold)
Agreed. I lis­tened to it once, and then sold it as quick­ly as I could. Blech!

Derek and the Dominoes - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
21. Derek and the Domi­noes — Lay­la and Oth­er Assort­ed Love Songs
cd (sold)
I could not agree more: two bril­liant songs in “Lay­la” and “Lit­tle Wing,” padded out with a for­get­table batch of filler. Leg­end has it the sub­stance-abus­ing Clap­ton lit­er­al­ly does not recall record­ing the album.

The Who - Tommy
22. The Who — Tom­my
vinyl (triple gate­fold with lyric book­let)
I don’t dis­agree that Tom­my is loaded down with a lot of silli­ness and filler, but hey, it’s a rock opera, and the first one at that. What do you expect?

U2 - Zooropa
26. U2 — Zooropa
I firm­ly, absolute­ly dis­agree. Zooropa may be a prod­uct of its time (the cut ‘n’ paste post­mod­ern media over­loaded 1990s), but it includes some of U2’s all-time best songs, includ­ing the title track and Stay (Far­away So Close). The mul­ti­lay­ered pro­duc­tion by Flood and Bri­an Eno may make the songs “sound weird,” but it also rewards a life­time of repeat lis­tens.

The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
32. The Flam­ing Lips — The Soft Bul­letin
I regret­tably agree. Give me Yoshi­mi Bat­tles the Pink Robots any day, but I just can’t get into this one.

Dave Brubeck - Time Out
34. Dave Brubeck — Time Out
Blas­pheme! Blas­pheme! Again with the jazz hate! I was not aware any­body dis­liked this album. What’s wrong with you? If you had includ­ed Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on your list, I think I would have had an aneurism.

Wilco - Being There
39. Wilco — Being There
cd (sold)
Like the rest of the world, I loved Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot, so I sought out some old­er Wilco albums. And I sus­pect like most of those peo­ple, I got rid of them.

The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta
42. The Police — Zeny­at­ta Mon­dat­ta
Dis­agree! Zeny­at­ta Mon­dat­ta is my favorite Police album. Grant­ed, “De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da” is the epit­o­me of pop silli­ness (except for maybe “Louie Louie” and R.E.M.‘s “Stand”), but the rest of the album is full of clas­sic reg­gae-inflect­ed new wave pop.

Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking
44. Jane’s Addic­tion — Nothing’s Shock­ing
As Per­ry Far­rell him­self once sang, “Stop!” Jane’s Addiction’s debut stu­dio album Nothing’s Shock­ing is a fan­tas­tic batch of songs. Per­ry Farrell’s wild per­sona and Dave Navarro’s famous­ly louche lifestyle got all the press, but my god, haven’t you lis­tened to the rhythm sec­tion? Jane’s Addic­tion proved that prog could live with­out shame in a new world after Led Zep­pelin, and they got even bet­ter in their next album Rit­u­al De Lo Habit­u­al (before self-destruc­t­ing, alas).

Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
50. Cocteau Twins — Heav­en or Las Vegas
I don’t have a real­ly strong opin­ion about it, but I enjoy lis­ten­ing to it from time to time. I didn’t even know it was espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar. Sor­ry, jeez.

Radiohead - I Might be Wrong
51. Radio­head — I Might be Wrong
It’s a fair state­ment that most live albums begin life as con­trac­tu­al oblig­a­tions. But what actu­al­ly does both­er me more about I Might Be Wrong is that it’s basi­cal­ly an EP sold at LP prices. That said, the per­for­mances are strong, and prove that the weird, arty music on Kid A and Amne­si­ac can and real­ly do come to life on stage.

Tori Amos - Under the Pink
54. Tori Amos — Under the Pink
cd (sold)
I loved Tori’s offi­cial solo debut Lit­tle Earth­quakes, but I sus­pect my sen­si­tive teenag­er self may have been crush­ing on the cute & quirky red­head at the piano.

Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of...
55. Arrest­ed Devel­op­ment — 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of…
cd (sold)
“…non-threat­en­ing rap-lite for sen­si­tive white lib­er­als who want to “keep it real” and expe­ri­ence hip-hop safe­ly.” Zing! Bust­ed.

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
64. Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon
30th Anniver­sary SACD
Again, blas­pheme! Yes, enough copies of Dark Side of the Moon exist on this plan­et to form their own con­ti­nent, but don’t you think there is a rea­son for that? Mere momen­tum alone can’t be enough to explain its appeal. If you want to sin­gle out one Pink Floyd album for being over­rat­ed and over­pur­chased, please allow me to direct you to The Wall, which unlike most oth­er Floyd albums, appeals to sullen imma­ture teenagers but does not grow in sophis­ti­ca­tion as they do.

Sarah McLachlan - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
65. Sarah McLach­lan — Fum­bling Towards Ecsta­sy, Sur­fac­ing
cds (still on my shelf but I real­ly ought to sell them)
Ouch! You got me here. I once liked both of these, but quick­ly fell out of love with them. I main­tain there are some decent songs under­neath the slick adult con­tem­po­rary over­pro­duc­tion.

U2 - War
69. U2 — War
U2 charts no less than three times on this haters list, rival­ing the Bea­t­les and the entire genre of jazz for rais­ing Chalkhills’ bile. I sug­gest revis­it­ing “Sun­day Bloody Sun­day” and tell me if the drums don’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

R.E.M. - Out of Time
80. R.E.M. — Out of Time
OK, maybe it’s not their best, and it is espe­cial­ly dis­ap­point­ing for hav­ing come right after the leg­endary, essen­tial album Green. But “Shiny Hap­py Peo­ple” is maybe the best 3/4-time pop song ever, and the whole sec­ond half is superb.

Grateful Dead Reckoning
83. Grate­ful Dead — any album
Reck­on­ing (lp) & Infrared Ros­es (cd)
Yep, I picked up a sec­ond­hand vinyl copy of Reck­on­ing for pen­nies and it’s pret­ty loose and ram­bling, even for the Dead. But I do dig the crazy elec­tron­ic jams on Infrared Ros­es, man.

Sting - Ten Summoner's Tales
90. Sting — Ten Summoner’s Tales
cd (sold)
I’ll cop to lik­ing “Fields of Gold” back in the day. Oh god, did I just admit that out loud on the inter­net?

There, done. Final­ly, I just want to say that yes, I do have a sense of humor and I get the point of Chalkhill’s rant. Respond­ing to their List of Hate was just an excuse for me to scrib­ble out a few words about some of the dusti­est old arti­facts from my music col­lec­tion. Thanks!


Low in Europe

Low in Europe


I came late to appre­ci­at­ing Low, but they have since become one of my favorite bands. I was vague­ly aware that trainspot­ting music crit­ics had chris­tened a new genre to cat­e­go­rize bands like Low: slow­core, the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of which being play­ing very qui­et­ly and slow­ly (an over­gen­er­al­iza­tion, it turns out, but it nev­er hurts to be famous for some­thing unique). “Venus,” a free pro­mo­tion­al MP3 from A Life­time of Tem­po­rary Relief giv­en away on, lived in rota­tion on my iPod for some time, and final­ly con­vinced me to buy the 2005 album The Great Destroy­er. I first saw them live in Brooklyn’s McCar­ren Park Pool in 2006, sup­port­ing Iron & Wine (whom I like well enough, but if you ask me it should have been the oth­er way around). Even in direct sun­light, their music is beau­ti­ful and engross­ing­ly enig­mat­ic.

Low in EuropeThrill to the sounds of slow­core leg­ends tun­ing up

Direc­tor Sebas­t­ian Schrade’s doc­u­men­tary Low in Europe was filmed on their 2002–2003 tour of Europe, before they wrote and record­ed my two favorite albums of theirs: The Great Destroy­er and Drums and Guns. It’s part con­cert film and part doc­u­men­tary, but not enough of each. There are no com­plete musi­cal per­for­mances includ­ed, and although the prin­ci­pals are all intel­li­gent and inter­est­ing, the fact is the inter­views are some­times a lit­tle less than grip­ping.

The band first express­es their ambiva­lence about oper­at­ing with­in the com­mer­cial music indus­try. They address their rep­u­ta­tion for slow tem­pos and low vol­ume with good humor; in their ear­ly days, they played real­ly slow, in the fuck-you avant-garde spir­it but not the loud ‘n’ slop­py let­ter of punk, to antag­o­nize and chal­lenge the audi­ence. Their con­trary nature extends to their per­son­al lives: prin­ci­pal mem­bers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Park­er, prac­tic­ing Mor­mons and a long­time mar­ried cou­ple, tour with their chil­dren and view it as a sim­pli­fied and focused way of life. This came as some­thing of a sur­prise to this Dork Reporter, whom feels per­haps he had a hereto­fore undis­cov­ered prej­u­dice that Mor­mons couldn’t be rock stars.

Low in EuropeOver to you, Alan

The heav­i­ly-doc­u­ment­ed Low can be fur­ther inves­ti­gat­ed on the three doc­u­men­tary shorts includ­ed with the A Life­time of Tem­po­rary Relief boxed set, and on the forth­com­ing You May Need a Mur­der­er, a new doc com­ing out June 3.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Blue Man Group: The Complex Rock Tour Live

Blue Man Group - The Complex Rock Tour Live


This Dork Reporter may have to burn his Rock Snob card, for I just watched and enjoyed the Blue Man Group con­cert film The Com­plex Rock Tour Live. I’d long assumed that the Blue Man Group’s seem­ing­ly per­ma­nent res­i­den­cy on Lafayette Street in down­town Man­hat­tan was some kind of tourist trap like Mars 2112 or Jekyll and Hyde, but now I’m wish­ing I had looked clos­er.

For any oth­ers that may also have pre­ma­ture­ly dis­missed them, the Blue Man Group is equal parts per­for­mance art col­lec­tive, per­cus­sion ensem­ble, and, well, blue. The Com­plex Rock Tour DVD cap­tures the group live in 2002, with a show that is at once both an actu­al rock con­cert and an iron­ic com­men­tary upon one.

I had to fight the sus­pi­cion through­out that a blue-clad trio of cat­bur­glars had slipped into my apart­ment and raid­ed my cd col­lec­tion. As I watched, I start­ed to com­pile in my head a list of artists that must have been influ­ences:

  • Emer­gency Broad­cast Net­work. Now defunct, EBN was a trail­blaz­ing mul­ti­me­dia per­for­mance group that fused McLuhan-esque media the­o­ry with tech­no, all in the style of a tele­vi­sion news broad­cast from hell. Their caus­tic and aggres­sive social com­men­tary is a far cry from The Blue Man Group’s squeaky clean naiveté, but it’s hard not to watch footage of their live per­for­mances with­out see­ing an ances­tor of the Com­plex Rock Tour’s iron­ic info­graph­ics.
  • Lau­rie Anderson’s Home of the Brave con­cert film (1986). All the ingre­di­ents are here, albeit in arti­er form: film, per­for­mance art, mime, masks, dance, etc.
  • Peter Gabriel and Robert LePage’s Secret World Live and Grow­ing Up Live tours were as much the­ater as rock con­certs, uti­liz­ing sim­ple yet huge­ly sym­bol­ic shapes and props: a tree, an egg, the moon, etc.
  • Talk­ing Heads’ Stop Mak­ing Sense con­cert film (1983), for all the same rea­sons as Lau­rie Ander­son and Peter Gabriel above.
  • King Crim­son. Some of the Blue Man music bears more than a pass­ing resem­blance to the polyrhyth­mic tuned per­cus­sion King Crim­son employed in the ear­ly 1980s with tracks like “Wait­ing Man” and “Neil and Jack and Me.” Not only that, one of the mem­bers of the Blue Man band can be spot­ted played the Chap­man Stick, pop­u­lar­ized by Tony Levin.
  • Rock Snobs might be sur­prised to hear traces of even more mod­ern music in the Blue Man Group reper­toire. I caught snip­pets of the instru­men­tal so-called “post-rock” of UNKLE, Bat­tles, and Explo­sions in the Sky.
  • And final­ly, the one influ­ence the Blue Men actu­al­ly namecheck with a (brief) cov­er ver­sion in their show is Devo, but I don’t own any of their music! Maybe I should take this as a rec­om­men­da­tion.

As humor­ous and toe-tap­ping as the Com­plex Rock show is, the Man­hat­tan-based Blue Man Group end the pro­ceed­ings with “Exhib­it 13”, a haunt­ing piece incor­po­rat­ing footage of actu­al World Trade Cen­ter debris that show­ered over Brook­lyn only a few months pri­or. The piece is avail­able online at

Blue Man Group - The Complex Rock Tour LiveAn excel­lent way to recy­cle your used PVC

Offi­cial site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.


U23D movie poster


U23D is actu­al­ly a fair­ly tra­di­tion­al con­cert movie, a most­ly straight-up filmed record of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive show of a sin­gle tour. U2 had already pro­duced one the­atri­cal fea­ture film about them­selves (1988’s Rat­tle and Hum), and released count­less pro­duc­tions on video and DVD before and since. So what could have been just anoth­er video of the world’s most over­ex­posed band need­ed to dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself some­how. Turns out the lat­est 3-D tech­nol­o­gy fill­ing a 40-foot screen con­sum­ing your periph­er­al vision is more than enough to jus­ti­fy its exis­tence.

3-D tech­nol­o­gy has come a long way from what I remem­ber as a kid, watch­ing Crea­ture of the Black Lagoon on TV with red-and-blue card­board glass­es. At first, the degree of depth is dis­ori­ent­ing and headache-induc­ing, but before too long the brain and eyes adjust. Your per­spec­tive is not that of the audi­ence but as if you were stand­ing right on stage with the lads. Some­times I felt as if I should have been hold­ing a tam­bourine!

U23DIn a state called ver­ti­go

The old songs I’ve mem­o­rized from thou­sands of plays on LP, tape, CD and now iPod are still great. The mar­tial drum­beat to “Sun­day Bloody Sun­day” still sends chills down my spine, and I have to admit I even choked up a lit­tle dur­ing “Pride (In the Name of Love).” I was dis­ap­point­ed by the rel­a­tive lack of songs from the band’s 90s “post­mod­ern irony” tril­o­gy Achtung Baby / Zooropa / Pop, but I now have a new appre­ci­a­tion for “Love and Peace or Else,” a new song from How to Dis­man­tle an Atom­ic Bomb that hadn’t quite made an impres­sion on me yet.

Bono in U23DOne blind Bono sez: Coex­ist or else

I’m a long­time fan that has nev­er seen U2 live. There was a frus­tra­tion at every oppor­tu­ni­ty; if they weren’t sold out, I was too broke, sans car, or all of the above. So U23D made a kind of stop­gap pil­grim­age for me. U2 must be one of the only rock bands to ever pre­serve the orig­i­nal per­son­nel for so long; here’s hop­ing they stick togeth­er long enough for anoth­er tour so I can see them for real.

Offi­cial movie site:

U2: Zoo TV Live From Syndey

U2 Zoo TV Live From Sydney


If I could build a time machine to take me to see any band in his­to­ry, it would be a trip to the ear­ly 90s to catch U2 at any point along their leg­endary Zoo TV tour. New to DVD, Zoo TV: Live From Syd­ney doc­u­ments the lads’ per­for­mance in Syd­ney dur­ing the apt­ly named Zoomerang leg. Rewatch­ing the event in the 21st cen­tu­ry is inter­est­ing; on one hand, it’s almost shock­ing how far ahead of the curve U2 was in 1993, preach­ing a pret­ty weighty post-mod­ern, iron­ic kill-your-tele­vi­sion the­sis in front of thou­sands of rock ‘n’ roll fans each night. But on the oth­er hand, the fix­a­tion on cable and satel­lite TV now looks rather quaint. True cul­tur­al desen­si­ti­za­tion and alien­ation via media over­sat­u­ra­tion came, in the end, from the inter­net. “Every­thing you know is wrong”, indeed.

U2 - Zoo TV Live From SyndeyI’d hate to see the band’s util­i­ty bill at the end of this tour…

Zoo TV was less a rock con­cert than a care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed the­atri­cal event. Bono donned mul­ti­ple cos­tumes and per­sonas through­out each show: a drunk­en rock star clad in leather and flay shades, a para­mil­i­tary in fatigues, a gold lamé cow­boy hat-wear­ing megachurch tel­e­van­ge­list blast­ing mil­lions of U2 bucks into the audi­ence, and final­ly emerg­ing as MacPhis­to, a kind of washed-up wast­ed dev­il tired of life but still up for a good time.

Bono as MacPhisto in U2 - Zoo TV Live From SydneyBono’s dev­il­ish alter-ego MacPhis­to

Regard­less, what’s amaz­ing is that despite all the high-mind­ed­ness and avant-garde video art con­tributed by Bri­an Eno and Emer­gency Broad­cast Net­work, U2 still man­aged to put on a tru­ly ass-kick­ing rock con­cert and get mil­lions of peo­ple around the globe to come and love every sec­ond of it. And for me to buy the DVD.

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:





I don’t nor­mal­ly review music dvds in this blog, but since Coachel­la received a the­atri­cal release in Europe, I thought it deserved a men­tion. It’s a rare con­cert film that is as inter­est­ed in the con­cert­go­ers and the char­ac­ter of the event itself as in sim­ply cap­tur­ing the per­for­mances.

Favorite moments: Thom Yorke actu­al­ly smil­ing before Radio­head rips into Plan­et Telex, the unex­pect­ed sight of a crowd groov­ing to Square­push­er’s dif­fi­cult arrhyth­mic beats, The Flam­ing Lips’ fur­ry freak­out, and The Poly­phon­ic Spree joy­ous­ly herald­ing the sun Sun­day morn­ing. Scari­est moments: Iggy Pop’s return of the liv­ing dead, and Fis­ch­er­spoon­er dress­ing up in fright wigs and fish­net speedos.

A Brief Word on R.E.M.

R.E.M. by Anton Corbijn

Being an unapolo­getic iPod/iTunes addict, I’m not too ashamed to announce I just fin­ished rip­ping all of my R.E.M. cds. So this is blog­wor­thy exact­ly how, you ask? Well, I was moved to post here because, all told, it amounts to over 28 hours of music. 28 HOURS! Isn’t that amaz­ing? On sec­ond thought, I sup­pose one could say that a day’s worth of songs isn’t that much con­sid­er­ing the band’s record­ing career is at least 20 years and run­ning. But I’m sure there’s a com­pletist out there with every sound­track, b-side, and boot­leg whose pile o’ R.E.M. MP3s reach­es into not days but weeks.

Part of my iTunes obses­sion involves rat­ing every track (see­ing as how I’m con­stant­ly rip­ping more cds, it’s also a sisy­phuse­an Big-Dig-type job). So a quick glance at my track-by-track rat­ings betrays my favorite albums, in rough order: Doc­u­ment, Life’s Rich Pageant, Up, Mon­ster. Least favorites? The two most recent: Reveal and Around the Sun. What hap­pened after Up? I know that album isn’t well-regard­ed, but per­son­al­ly I love it for its flaws and hon­est­ly, its weird­ness. It’s their first album after drum­mer Bill Berry left the band, and it shows them reach­ing for a new sound. Per­haps the touch­es of elec­tron­i­ca are a bit dat­ed (Bowie and U2 have also left much of that behind by now), but I like it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the iden­ti­ty they chose is to fol­low up on the tone set by the most bland song on Up, Daysleep­er. It’s the sort of jan­g­ly bal­lad R.E.M. can dash off in their sleep. It lets the album down, and it’s a real bum­mer for the next two whole albums to share that feel. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll buy the next one to see if they jump off the cliff again.