Film Reviews: February/March 2004
Note: Reviews are in no particular order

Orange Hat takes a ride on the Psychedelic Elevator (VHS)
&The Orange Hat Hour Volume One (DVD)
Two music videos by Orange Hat

Since 2002 THE ORANGE HAT HOUR has been running weekly on cable access TV in Atlanta. Each episode contains a ‘theme’ that includes music videos, comedy sketches, and sometimes oddball art films. This DVD release features the first four episodes in what is basically a psychedelic 21st century Monkees - but this aint your mamma’s version of the Monkees! Surrealistic themes abound (one episode finds the group exploring household appliances in a LAND OF THE GIANTS-type scenario while another follows the band’s journey with elderly farmers, aliens, donuts shops and pizza joints). The ‘vintage hat’ sections are fabulous, in that they show how far the band has come since their early days. The spoofs of info-mercials and cooking TV shows are great, too. My favorite is “The Castaway Song” - a brilliant parody mixing “Gilligan’s Island” with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” using clips of both the Gilligan TV show and Zeppelin film clips to great comedic effect. Finally, another section worth mention is the band’s parody of the typical band manager, record company executive and producer – anyone that has ever been in a band will find these as ironic as any Spinal Tap commentary on the music biz. Sure, the guys are not actors, but they don’t pretend to be! That’s part of the charm of Orange Hat on film – they are having fun at what they do and it is INFECTIOUS!

ORANGE HAT TAKES A RIDE ON THE PSYCHEDELIC ELEVATOR is the videotape release by Atlanta’s psychedelic-popsters. Orange Hat takes you on a sometimes bizarre, image filled odyssey, with music videos, parodies, humorous skits and arty film themes. The band is followed on a journey through various elevator stops, with each floor having new surprises. The ‘rockumentary’ scene on the band is hilarious – I really like a band that can spoof itself! And the “Orange Hat Laboratories” section is clever. Finally, when you add their music videos into the context of the ‘elevator’ storyline, you get a witty and hip update to the Beatles MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR.

If you ask me which I prefer, the video or the DVD I can’t really say because they are each different creatures entirely – but I would recommend both. I hate to keep using the Beatles/Monkees comparison, but if you loved the Monkees TV show and MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, you are gonna LOVE the video productions by Orange Hat! The music videos of Orange Hat are clever in a way that current, ‘standard’ music videos are NOT. Orange Hat gives you faith that not all hope is lost in the music video genre – one that started out with such promise with the advent of MTV and then quickly turned into a cliché. If you want to see the successful merge of rock music and video, then by all means check out Orange Hat!

Review by Ronnie

Utopia-Live In Columbus, Ohio 1980 (DVD)
A music video by Utopia

1980 represented both a transitional and pivotal moment for the band Utopia. Having begun it's life in 74 as a supporting unit for leader Todd Rundgren's experimental concert conceits, it soon began to coalesce into a lean, mean, democratic outfit. By 1977, with the release of the mystical, progressive RA, the classic Utopia lineup of Todd Rundgren (guitar) Kasim Sultan (bass) Roger Powell (keys) and John "Willie" Wilcox (drums) was firmly established. In less than a year, Utopia had finished it's first song-oriented album "Oops! Wrong Planet". Three years and a couple of Rundgren solo projects passed before 1980's "Adventures in Utopia" was released. Many critics still regard this album as the best collection of songs ever released by the group, and it is at this moment in the band's history that we witness Utopia on the DVD "Live in Columbus, Ohio, 1980".

1979-1981 was an uncertain time of stylistic shifts in rock, and this is in evidence on this DVD. For the first time on film, we see Utopia navigating these unsure times through a slalom course of progressive rock, pop, and new wave. Appropriately, the concert setlist is divided into three parts. In part one, the band throws most of its energies into promoting the new "Adventures in Utopia" album, performing such standouts as "The Very Last Time" and the classic "Set Me Free". The section ends with the powerful 1-2 combo from "Oops! Wrong Planet": "Trapped", followed by "Love in Action".

Part two features more of the new "Adventures…" material, performed along side classic tunes from the Rundgren solo projects "Hermit of Mink Hollow" and " Back to the Bars". The pace is set at the beginning with a driving rendition of the catchy disco/rock amalgam "Rock Love". Each of the band members is afforded a solo moment, demonstrating the vocal strength of the group. Drummer Wilcox steps forward (while playing bass) on "Gangrene" (with a rare appearance of Todd on drums!), and keyboard player Powell performs "Sands of Arakis", but it is bass player Sultan who shines with an acoustic version of "Don't hold Me Back".

The section is anchored by a crowd-pleasing medley of the Rundgren standards "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference", Can We Still Be Friends" and "Hello It's Me". After demonstrating blistering guitar work throughout the first two sections, Todd ends the set by strapping on his acoustic for a beautiful and touching solo rendition of the poignant "Cliché".

In part three, the band takes the stage in the white uniforms of the DVD cover. Sporting silver, vaguely Egyptian -esque custom instruments (including Wilcox's remarkable drum pod, an inventive, futuristic, all-electronic kit mounted on a raised motorcycle frame) and invoking the prog-rock pyramid power of RA, Utopia re-visits the demanding material of this incarnation's first album, and does a masterful job. Tight musicianship and beautiful vocal harmonies support one mystically inspired song after the next. The concert ends with the fittingly up-beat and positive message of "Just One Victory".

There is no ignoring the fact that the DVD is a document of its time. The early 80-'s proto-MTV lighting and camera work are charming, but the editing is calm enough that you actually have a chance to visually appreciate the musicianship of each of the band members. The sound quality is surprisingly good for a film of this era. Rundgren supervised the tracks re-mixing in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, which results in a little more separation and "head room" than one would expect from a recording from this era.

Extra features on the CD include a photo gallery and a 25-minute interview with Todd conducted in February 2003. It's a pleasure to hear Rundgren discuss the history of Utopia, including such topics as the way the shows were staged, the band's pioneering use of video, the technical hassles involved with touring, and ideas about spontaneity VS. structure in the live concert context. Rundgren is an example of that rare breed: the articulate musician, and it will be a pleasure for fans of the artist's work to hear him discuss his music in this interview.

This DVD is an important document in the history of an unclassifiable and oft-overlooked band. Fans of Todd Rundgren and anyone interested in rock history will be pleased with this Sanctuary Records DVD release.

Review by Dan Addington

Tribute-A Rockumentary (DVD)
A film by Rich Fox and Kris Curry. Executive Produced by Steven Soderbergh.

I love tribute bands and we feature many of them on a regular basis in EAR CANDY. So, when I heard about this film I had to see it! TRIBUTE is basically a 'day in the life' of four tribute bands: The Missing Links (The Monkees), Sheer Heart Attack (Queen), Bloodstone (Judas Priest), and Larger than Life (KISS). Of course you have the same trials and tribulations of 'regular' bands, such as personality conflicts, cancelled gigs and the ordeal of suffering through auditions for new members.

When Andy, the 'Gene Simmons' of Larger Than Life, has a nervous breakdown and leaves the band, the audition of a possible 'Gene' is shown. The 'Gene' is question spends the whole audition 'acting-up' the Gene role, although he is reminded several times by the band members that they just want to "hear him". This is a classic BAD audition because the guy is so clueless, acting like a drunk Gene Simmons! Ultimately, the band does finally finds their ‘Gene’ replacement and their segment of the film ends as they play their first gig with the new lineup. Since KISS is a band that played in makeup (well, during their glory years anyway), you don’t really have to look exactly like the original band members. In fact, the members of Larger Than Life all have short hair and a black member plays ‘Paul Stanley’! Most of the scenes concerning The Missing Links show the backbiting between two members, who have a falling out and decide to start two separate Monkees tribute bands. The 'Mike Nesmith' of the band comes across as a real asshole, so you can image what results! He even tricks a new 'Davy Jones' into his band, not being honest and telling him upfront that it will be exclusively a Monkees tribute band. Such are the daily tribulations of a tribute band. When it comes to Bloodstone, of course the subject comes up of Jim "Ripper" Owens. Owens was in a Judas Priest tribute band and was actually asked to join the band as a replacement for Rob Halford - so there is the chance of stardom with tribute bands! In addition to the bands, a few of the hardcore fans are shown, including the "heavy metal mailman" who regularly catches the band to get his metal fix. Finally, there is the Queen tribute band, Sheer Heart Attack. This is another band that has a lineup change when 'Freddy Mercury' accepts a role in a European version of CATS. The band suffers through auditions, including a guy that can in no way fit into Freddy's trademark leotards! In this case, the film ends without the band finding a replacement.

The most disturbing part of the film concerns "superfan" - a neurotic Queen fan that obsesses about the band. When 'Freddy' leaves the band to join CATS, "superfan" almost has a breakdown. Almost in a stalker-like-fashion, he drives to the LA homes of actual Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor just to sit outside their homes. “Superfan” suddenly sees some skywriting in the distance and is convinced that it is Freddy Mercury talking to him!

All in all, TRIBUTE is an intriguing look at the often-overlooked sub-genre of rock 'n roll. Oh, and if you wondered what happened to Andy, the 'Gene Simmons' who had a nervous breakdown? He cut his hair, found religion and renounced KISS.

TRIBUTE premieres on Showtime in April, 2004!

Review by Ronnie

The Seven Year Itch (DVD)
A music video by Siouxsie & Banshees

As a high school history teacher I once saw a note written by a senior-boy to his girlfriend, explaining in all seriousness how their relationship could “proceed to the next level” once he had determined whether or not he was going to be goth or punk. Good lord, if the Damned, or Robert Smith, for that matter, had had such problems they never would have so much as kissed a girl. Of course Robert Smith at least could have made a lot of girls squirm while making a lot of money by writing a song about his anguish. The Damned would probably have just taken up necrophilia. There are other examples of course. Take Warsaw and Joy Division—when the Warsaw material was released on CD I made this excited and piercing observation to my friend Andrew, “It’s Joy Division, but…more punk!” Observations like that are why I write for a webzine and not NME.

Siouxie and Banshees straddle, and even undulate, more perfectly than any other band along this indefinable divide. Very few bands can claim a lineage older than theirs either, the Banshees getting going in 1976. We see Siouxie’s laconic sneer in the film footage of the early Sex Pistols gigs, a sneer that was imitated by an entire generation of teenage girls whose intelligence and alienation from society led them to get blue-black-dye bobs. While bands like the Pistols got much greater attention over the years, the Banshees always seemed to be right there, whether in John Peel’s studio or on stage at Lollapalooza.

That same sneer is wholly lacking in The Seven Year Itch. After, well, seven years, Siouxie and drummer Budgie who had been recording and touring as The Creatures, reunited with bassist Steve Severin and guitarist Knox Chandler, formerly of the Psychedelic Furs, to create a live album and extended version concert DVD. Siouxie, like the best of the old guard who have dared to haul their 40-plus-year-old carcasses onto stage, has approached the concert experience with a humor that was less obvious in the 1970s. Just before the start of Happy House, Siouxie gently teases the audience for their very un-goth/punk cheers: “We’re not happy are we? You’re disgusting! You can’t be happy here!” There’s no crying in baseball!

For the most part the songs included on the CD and the DVD are the same, but there are variances. The CD contains material from the two night show at Shepard’s Bush in London, whereas the DVD is the second night’s video (presumably) from start to finish. The songs for CD were wise choices for the most part. Both CD and DVD begin with the wholly irritating Pure, a whiny intro piece that sounds like a really bad session of Space at a Dead concert or maybe something by Phillip Glass when he really had something Very Serious to say. Fortunately once Siouxie gets herself onto stage the band makes up for it with a ripping version of Jigsaw Feeling. Metal Postcard follows with a roiling drumbeat reminiscent of Bauhaus and, at times, Killing Joke. Red Light follows with a bass line tempo right out of a strip tease or maybe that Concrete Blonde song about the vampires. Very sexy Siouxie. O.K. I understand, Siouxie is not a sex symbol, but I have some very sexy memories of the Creatures show (the only time I’ve seen Siouxie live) and darn it, the Ramones, while being a great band just don’t give me boner for some reason.

Now the bad news.

The earliest Banshee material is, in my very humble opinon, the worst of the lot. The first inking of disappointment came with the aforementioned Happy House. The jangly brit-pop guitar is replaced by a discordant mis-mash of screechy guitar chords and smothered with a gravy of Budgie’s thunderous tribal drumming—drums which, while present in the original, do not dominate the song. The new version suits the vocal style.

And therein lies the rub. Siouxie’s voice. There are just levels of clarity that a 20 year can’t reach that a 40 year old can’t especially if you’ve been a smoker. Note the emphasis on clarity. Siouxie never shattered crystal like Kate Bush. There are different things one can do with a smoker’s voice but clear highs are not usually among them. Even more disappointing was my favorite Siouxie song of all, Christine. The whole “updated” version has this off-key piano thing going on, and Siouxie’s voice is clearly not getting there. There’s a sickening kind of flattening the human voice gets when its either that or going falsetto. Sometimes this flattening has been used to good effect where the whole point of the song is to sound like shit or to be scary. This version isn’t scary, its just shit.

The only other song going back as far as my freshman year in high school is Spellbound, originally a punky little ditty now transformed into a pounding anthem. Of course by this point in the DVD Siouxie is prancing around in a sequined bra, showing that like Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, there are still a few of the old guard who can get their kit off without looking a compete tit. So to speak. It is, however, no surprise that not one of these three early offerings makes it onto the CD.

The good news is that, for the most part, her later Creaturesesque stuff is engineered for the older-Siouxie and works very well indeed. Blue Jay Way was scary on the Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour, and Siouxie gives it the right amount of gothy flavoring, getting scary without getting silly. Other songs, like Land’s End have a very Cure-like quality, crying out for a Robert Smith duet. The best moment for me in the DVD, finally wasn’t actually Siouxie at all, but rather the utterly priceless Japanese trio eX-Girl. They opened the show and returned to the stage for the ubiquitous finale Peek-a-Boo. Their voices backup the song perfectly and their frog costumes are beyond cute. They are so much fun they’re almost worth the price of admission alone.

Ultimately I wouldn’t buy either unless you are such a fan you’ll buy anything Siouxie related. Pity too because I really like the Banshees and wanted to like this more than I did. There are moments of brilliance, really, but I would buy the Cure’s Trilogy concert DVD for a more successful goth-punk redux.

Review by Wylie Reeves

A Mighty Wind (DVD)
A Musical Parody/Comedy
(Warner Bros./Castle Rock Entertainment)

The 'mock'-umentary is one of my favorite film styles and I love films like THIS IS SPINAL TAP and ALL YOU NEED IS CASH: THE RUTLES. Now it is time to poke fun at the most pretentious musical genre: folk! Christopher Guest (who played Nigel Tufnel in SPINAL TAP) directs this film and he definitely learned a few things from working with Rob Reiner on SPINAL TAP. A MIGHTY WIND was written by Christopher Guest (who also plays one of The Folksmen) and Eugene Levy (who plays Mitch) and revolves around a folk benefit concert that brings together three "legendary" folk bands from the '60s: The Folksmen, Mitch & Mickey, The New Main Street singers.

Expect the same type of humor as SPINAL TAP, but instead of focusing on heavy metal (which is the easiest genre to make fun of), A MIGHTY WIND aims target at the pretentious folkies of the '60s. Eugene Levy's portrayal of "Mitch" is hilarious, and he comes off like a burnt-out version of Gerry Garcia. One of the funniest lines in the movie is when Mr. Bohner (of the New Main Street Singers) talks about the abuse he suffered in his childhood. " was mostly musical abuse," he deadpans. I recommend watching the DVD because the bonus features are priceless. Oh, and if you've seen the movie BEST IN SHOW, you will get a sense of déjà vu, since most of the cast of that movie also appear in A MIGHTY WIND.

I usually hate '60s folk music, but I did find this film very entertaining! If you liked the humor of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, you will probably enjoy A MIGHTY WIND.

Review by Ronnie

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