Long Live Rock: Celebrate the Chaos


Surf’s up.

(2021) Documentary (Abramorama) Lars Ulrich, Ice-T, Robert DeLeo, Jerry Cantrell, Dexter Holland, Duff McKagan, John Kasich, Drew Pinsky, Tom Morello, Taylor Momsen, Rob Zombie, Dorothy Martin, Gavin Rossdale, Ed Kowalcyk, Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman, Matt Pinfield, Machine Gun Kelly, Lzzy Hale, Jason Flom, Seyth Boardman, Allison Hagendorf. Directed by Jonathan McHugh

 

Heavy metal has always gotten, if you’ll excuse the expression, a bad rap among musical genres. Often the music is dismissed as self-indulgent guitar noodling with satanic lyrics, its fans as Beavis and Butthead clones. That’s neither accurate nor fair.

Metal fans have always been amongst music’s most passionate. There is a kind of tribalism that goes on with metal fans, from the tattoos of lyrics and logos to the tour t-shirts and festival followers. While there might be rivalries with different bands (Metallica and Megadeth come to mind right away), there is a camaraderie between metal fans regardless of their favorite band; they’re all in it together and even if your favorite band is Halestorm, you can still rock out to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Korn or Body Count.

This is a documentary that suffers from the desire to do too much. McHugh starts as a way for fans to discuss what about the music appeals to them, why they love the bands they do and some of this is the most interesting material in the film, like the midwestern Mom whose kids can’t stand the music she listens to (it’s too loud) and takes one weekend off a year to attend a music festival to blow off steam and re-connect with friends and fellow metalheads.

But McHugh goes off in several other directions without any sort of plan or organization, going from the communal nature of the fans to the fine art of crowd surfing, to the casualties of the rock and roll lifestyle, to the lack of mainstream appeal of the music. The film leads off with Gene Simmons’ quote that Rock and Roll is Dead and rap has taken its place. That may well be statistically accurate, but it fails to take into account the cyclical nature of music which Simmons himself should have an understanding of since he and his band (KISS) have seen metal fall out of favor, come back in the late 80s/early 90s, and then fade away again. Sure, rap and hip hop may well be in the driver’s seat now but so was disco in the 70s; at some point kids will find something else to listen to. They always do.

There’s enough material here for McHugh to have done a miniseries on the subject, but instead he tried to cram it all into an hour and a half. That was probably not a good idea; most of the individual topics he takes off could easily use a movie of their own – the growing acceptance of women and African-Americans in the genre, the soul-grinding nature of touring and the toll it takes on family life, the healing nature of music, the relationship between fans and bands and those I mentioned previously, to name a few.

Much of the footage takes place at large-scale festival shows with tens of thousands in attendance (and often more) which might be painful for those who miss those gatherings which are probably at least another year or two away from happening again as of this writing. The effect of the pandemic on the fans and the musicians is never explored, but something tells me that this was filmed long before that. Some follow-up footage might have been nice. There also seems to be an emphasis on bands of the 80s and afterwards with curiously little mention to the hard rock pioneers of the 60s and 70s like KISS, Van Halen, Iron Butterfly, The Who, the Stones, and only a brief mention of Heart as pioneers for women in rock during that sequence. Context might have been a nice addition as well.

This is a worthy subject for a documentary and there is a definitely uplifting feeling to the film, despite a section on the passing of Chris Cornell and Chester Binnington of Soundgarden and Linkin Park, respectively. I think with a little better editing an maybe a little less scattershot approach, this could have been a lot more kickass than it was.

As a rock critic back in the day, I covered a number of the bands that are portrayed here. I have to say that the metal fans were some of the most inclusive of any I’ve ever dealt with as a rock critic. Although I tended to be more drawn to alternative music personally, I looked forward to metal shows not just because I liked the fans, but also because the women tended to be the sexiest – I was a single guy at the time, after all.

REASONS TO SEE: Gets an “A” for enthusiasm.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really organize its subjects well.
FAMILY VALUES: There are drug references and profanity herein.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Halestorm, who is profiled in the film, recorded a cover of The Who’s “Long Live Rock” to promote the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: MUBI, Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Lava

Mountaintop


Neil Young gives you the fish eye.

(2019) Music Documentary (Abramorama) Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, John Hanlon. Directed by Bernard Shaky

 

Neil Young has been a musician’s musician since he first came on the scene in Buffalo Springfield back in the Sixties. Throughout the following decades, the Canadian rocker was the conscience of a generation, creating songs like “Southern Man,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Rocking in the Free World.” At an age when most men are chasing kids off their lawn and complaining about their prostate, he continues to rock – hard.

Earlier this year he took to the Studio in the Clouds in Telluride, Colorado to record his new album, titled Colorado which will be in stores on October 25. This documentary was recorded mainly on Go Pro cameras placed strategically around the studio, interspersed with time lapse photography of the gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery outside.

We hear the songs take shape and to be honest, they are as good as anything Young has ever done. At 73 years old, you’d think he would be ready to hang up his Les Paul but he clearly still has a lot to say, such as on the single “Rainbow of Colors” in which he decries the Trumpian suspicion of immigrants both legal and otherwise.

There are also some instances where both Young and his producer/engineer John Hanlon rant about the monitors and the studio wiring – at one point Young threatened to pull the plug on the project. Still, the occasional tantrum aside, the bond between Young and his bandmates is almost terrifying in how on the same page they are. Even Lofgren, a relative newcomer to the band and the only member under 70 years old, harmonize beautifully and seem to understand instinctively what Young is trying to accomplish.

The film, directed by Young himself under a nom de cinema is unlikely to win new converts to his cause. Those that love the music of the master – who is no longer an aging hippie but an aged one – are going to eat this up like candy. Nor is Young planning on slowing down on the film projects; he reportedly has 15 of them lined up, including the editing of footage documenting the recording of the iconic 1971 album Harvest as well as concert films from throughout his career.

The movie is playing in theaters just today (October 22, 2019) in locations around the country – check your local listings for the one nearest y,ou. Here in Orlando, trek on down to the Enzian for a 9:30pm screening. If you’re a Neil Young fan, you won’t want to miss it on the big screen.

REASONS TO SEE: If you’re into Neil Young, you’ll be into this.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re not into Neil Young, you won’t be into this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film explores the recording of the first studio album in seven years by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Western Stars
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Kill Team

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage


Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

(Banger Films) Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Matt Stone, Trent Reznor. Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden

Some bands are high profile due to their outrageous personalities, some because of how many tickets, downloads and/or albums they’ve sold. Some bands, however, may make a lot of money but fly completely under the radar, a spirit of radio that survives into the digital age.

Canada’s Rush is like that. They started in the late 60s as a kind of psychedelic hard rock band, evolving into a more heavy metal incarnation in the 70s, before morphing into a progressive rock outfit in the 80s (which was, ironically enough, the height of their sales and popularity). In the 90s, they became a bit more of a hard rock band, which is where they’ve been ever since. Obviously, time stands still for some bands but not for Rush.

Even though the band has sold tens of millions of albums, sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world and are considered to be some of the finest musicians in rock and roll, they have never really gotten their due. I’m not sure why that is; it’s a subject that is often brought up, particularly by the musicians and celebrity talking heads, but there are no real answers. I don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance we’ll ever really figure it out other than to say that there are a lot of people who have crap taste in music, but that’s the music snob in me talkin’.

Part of the reason is displayed in this documentary. The three are actually very nice guys who don’t party like rock stars, who don’t do outrageous things and essentially stay out of the limelight. While never a fly by night kind of band, they’ve kept the same lineup for nearly their entire history, with only a single drummer change very early on in their career. In the very maleable world of rock and roll, that’s quite the rarity.

Drummer Neil Peart writes most of their lyrics with an eye towards science fiction, fantasy and philosophy. Watching the interviews with him and his mates, one gets a sense of how intelligent all three of them are. They haven’t squandered their fortune on ostentatious homes, toys and drugs; they haven’t got an arrest record a mile long. In that sense, they’ve managed to stay out of the camera eye. They’re basically decent family men who work in a peculiar industry, but otherwise they’re just like you or me.

Stars in both hemispheres, their music is complex, layered and yet melodic. It has influenced a diverse group of musicians, from hard rockers Kirk Hammett and Sebastian Bach (who claims he was the third member of the group’s fan club) to alt-rockers like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, all of whom appear here singing the praises of Rush along with filmmaker Matt Stone and actor/musician Jack Black. Influencing guys like this is launching mystic rhythms into the ether that will come back in the future in unexpected ways.

I admit to being a big fan of these guys, which makes it hard to be objective about a film like this. I enjoyed watching the concert footage, the fan love and of course the interview segments; however, it is the band’s home movies from their early years that I found most fascinating. Hearing them discuss their goals and aspirations sitting around a kitchen table at their suburban Toronto home, you get kind of a sense that they had a clear vision even back then. After all, even Tom Sawyer went to high school.

I can admire that these filmmakers give you a very detailed, intimate portrait of a band that I happen to care about, but even if I didn’t this is still a wonderful introduction to their music and their career. Whether you’re fans or not, chances are you’re going to like these guys who refer to themselves in very self-deprecating ways as boring and uninteresting. If you are fans, this will be a gold mine of rare footage and concert films of old favorites. It’s not quite going home, but it’s close. However you term it, this is a good way to get closer to the heart of an influential yet largely non-respected band.

WHY RENT THIS: An in-depth look at a band that never got the respect it truly deserves. Some really interesting home movie footage gives you a real sense of how the band evolved.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While accessible to non-fans, certainly it won’t hold much appeal to those who aren’t into the band’s music.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there but otherwise this is perfectly fine for Rush fans of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as the drummer for the band; he also became the lyricist, allowing Geddy Lee to concentrate on the music and vocals.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes an extra disc with an hour and a half of live performances not seen in the film, deleted scenes and a 12-page booklet.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Adventureland