Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

It makes perfect sense that a documentary about SoCal ska punkers Fishbone would follow in the wake of “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” Both bands were far ahead of their time, proved to be wildly influential – Gwen Stefani, for one, sings Fishbone’s praises to the heavens – yet neither band could sell a record to save their lives. Slash offers a great quote about how several speed metal bands ripped Anvil off and left them for dead. Fishbone had a few more chances at the brass ring than Anvil did, but the end result proved to be the same. “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” explains, in often uncomfortable detail, several of the reasons why they were often their own worst enemies.

The structure of the story is not your typical ‘analyze the band’s career from album to album’ approach. Unfortunately, that turns out to be a problem. The great Laurence Fishburne narrates the band’s tale, but disappears for long segments at a time, and since the timeline jumps around a bit, the viewer never really knows when to expect his return. Also, several albums from the band’s catalog, including 1986’s In Your Face (which included minor MTV hit “When Problems Arise”), are not discussed at all, which denies anyone unfamiliar with the band any sense of momentum, or lack thereof, the band had as they soldiered on.

The first act of the film, though, is pure genius. As the band members recall the early days and their formation, the stories are backed with “Fat Albert”-style animation that both nails and works in stark contrast to the vibe of the band and the area in which they lived. David Kahne, the Columbia Records exec who produced Fishbone’s first four albums, admits that their failure to reach the next level is his greatest career disappointment. There is a wealth of live footage from the early days. Most of the content, though, is a landslide of conflict and hard times; we see lead singer Angelo Moore get evicted from his place, and worse, we see him on video laying into Norwood Fisher, the only other surviving member of the group. Even the guy shooting the video is telling Angelo to stop before he’s gone too far. Then you see Norwood talk about sharing a band with a guy who insists on being Dr. Mad Vibe on the Theremin in the middle of Fishbone gigs, and it’s suddenly easy to see why the band is exactly where it is.

But hot damn, were they awesome at times, and in an industry where the pioneers are scapled a lot more often than they’re rewarded, you can see why someone would want to pay their respects. We’re betting that even the filmmakers did not anticipate the places “Everyday Sunshine” would go, and while that would occasionally lead to an eye-opening moment, the conclusion does not instill the sense of optimism that Anvil had when their credits rolled. Pity. (Cinema Guild 2012)

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Queen: Days of Our Lives

The big selling point of “Days of Our Lives,” the exhaustive two-hour BBC documentary on epic rock quartet Queen, is the material culled from the band’s very early days and their very last days. There are live performances from Smile, the group guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor formed before Queen, and some video of future singer Fredde Mercury singing “Big Spender.” The later footage, shot on the sets of the last music videos Mercury would perform, his body slowly but surely being ravaged by AIDS, are at once heart-warming and devastating. Mercury was positively gaunt, yet he gathered every ounce of will he could muster to go out fighting.

May and Taylor are wonderfully candid in their interviews, as are fellow managers, producers, roadies, and side men they recruited. (They even brought in Ultravox’s Midge Ure to talk about the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid.) Everyone has good stories to tell, and there are no attempts at revisionist history. If an album didn’t work – say, 1982’s Hot Space – they own up to it, and May is the first to admit that some bad business decisions early on led rendered them financially destitute for years, and it was out of desperation from that that they made A Night at the Opera. Best of all, each album is given an equal amount of coverage, with the exception of the soundtrack to “Flash Gordon,” of which the title track is played but never discussed.

The one unfortunate aspect of “Days of Our Lives” is that bassist John Deacon did not come back to do an interview, so the producers were forced to rely on archive interview footage for half the band. Yes, he’s retired from performing, but this seems like as good an occasion as any to put the Queen hat back on for a day and talk shop. It’s a small quibble, though, because the documentary hits all of the highlights of a truly remarkable career…with one small exception: there is no mention of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from “Wayne’s World.” We would have loved to see them talk about that. (Eagle Vision 2012)

Click to buy Queen: Days of Our Lives from Amazon

  

Black Sabbath: Paranoid Classic Albums DVD

It’s been said that Black Sabbath’s landmark Paranoid album spawned the genre of heavy metal, and if you watch this awesome video from Eagle Rock Entertainment, you can see why.  The four members of Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward -created music their own way, and it was a powerful sound that appealed to stoners and those craving stuff equal to or heavier than Led Zeppelin.  The band also appealed to the masses who were protesting the Vietnam War in 1970, because making music that went against the grain was something these folks could relate to.  But this DVD is just outstanding in that every member of Black Sabbath is interviewed, as well as folks like sound engineer Tom Allom and long-time fan and recording artist Henry Rollins.  There is awesome archived footage of the band playing live, and detailed descriptions of how each song on Paranoid was written or how it began.  Fans of Black Sabbath, or anyone who is too young to remember them but curious, should all grab this DVD, because not only is it a history lesson, it’s a lesson on how music should be made – with the artist driving the proverbial bus.  (Eagle Vision 2010)

  

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

One thing about Rush fans is that they crave more from the band, and the band is more than happy to fulfill that request. Case in point is the long awaited film, “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” – the 106-minute movie that chronicles the band’s history from local Toronto high school and bar band, to the world’s biggest cult act.

The film, produced and directed by Scott McFadyen and Sam Dunn, is novel for the access they had to band, the archival footage of the band’s early years, and key people in Rush’s career.  The strength of this documentary is how much the of the early years is covered in exhaustive detail.  From their difficulty in getting a record deal (a common tale for many ‘o bands), to being catapulted into A-list shows after hiring Neil Peart as their new drummer, to the lyrical and musical overreach with their album Caress of Steel. It’s all here in glorious detail from the band’s perspective.

What most fans of the band know is that with 2112, the album that was middle finger salute to the record company demanding a more commercial sound, Rush finally connected with their audience in a way that made them untouchable to the meddling of the suits.  In other words, with 2112 selling millions of copies, Rush finally became bankable and thus able to chart their own musical course with both long form and more compact albums – like the perennial favorite, Moving Pictures.

While the documentary is quite good at presenting the details of their early and middle years of their career, the film falls short in exploring the years that divides many Rush fans: the “synth” years in the ‘80s. The filmmakers (probably owning to time constraints) weren’t able to go into detail on albums like Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, or even Presto, nor did they focus on Vapor Trials or Snakes and Arrows all that much. What they did focus on was the fawning commentary from artists like Billy Corgan, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, and even Les Claypool.  After a half hour of hearing how great Rush is, I was muttering at the TV, “Okay, I get it! You love the band. Do I really need to hear it every 10 minutes?”

Still, these are just a few quibbles in an otherwise great DVD.  And in keeping with giving fans more, the filmmakers include a bonus disc that has a number of live performances, expanded interviews, and even a dinner with the boys that shows what a bunch of goofs they are. As a gift for any serious music fan, this DVD is a must to put on your gift list. (Zoe Records 2010)

  

Rush: Classic Albums, “2112” and “Moving Pictures”

The Classic Albums series gives the fans two albums for the price of one in this two-hour set covering the band’s biggest albums, 1976’s 2112 and 1981’s Moving Pictures. The band is extremely candid about how 2112 was a life-or-death album for them, and how they refused to give in to label pressure to write a hit. They even bring the band’s longtime producer Terry Brown (he and the band parted ways after 1982’s Signals) to break down the tracks, and explain the origin of the eerie synthesizer line that opens the “Overture” section to “2112.” Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson are also on hand to sing the band’s praises.

If there is one downside to this one, it’s that they had so much ground to cover that they tend to focus solely on the hits. Side II of Moving Pictures is ignored completely, and the song “Tears” – first power ballad ever? – is only discussed as an aside in one of the interviews in the bonus features. The content they do provide is damn good, though. And with the way they edit the Peart interview segments, we can’t help but wonder just how much talking he did that didn’t wind up on the final cut. (Eagle Vision 2010)

Click to buy Classic Albums: 2112 and Moving Pictures from Amazon

  

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