'The M-80 Project': The T.A.M.I. Show of New Wave
The stuff of rumor and legend in punk circles for 24 years, The M-80 Project (1979) is finally getting its world premiere tonight, on Wednesday, October 1 at Oak Street Cinema as part of the Sound Unseen music and film festival ($9, 7:30 p.m., with a DJ set by Karrie Vrabel at 7, followed by a Q&A with Paul Stark and Chris Osgood).
Sort of a T.A.M.I. Show of the new wave, this "lost" September 1979 concert film documents the first international festival of the alternative scene--and at just that geeky and awkward moment before music videos, hair gel, and hardcore entered the picture. Many locals remember these nights at the University of Minnesota field house as life-changing, but few of the bands that participated have even seen the raw footage. In the end, the recently reassembled film was able to include only 16 of the 23 bands that played--the rest of the footage was either lost (as in the case of Flamingo) or rendered unusable by age or gliches in the original footage (as with the dB's, who write about the fest on their web site).
But the performances that are there are often astonishing. They include Devo (under their Christian-rock pseudonym, Dove (the Band of Love), and doing music that they barely released elsewhere, if at all), the Suicide Commandos (rendering a breathtaking "Complicated Fun," namesake of this web site), the Suburbs (their freshly composed "Cows"; check out other video samples of their performance at the Suburbs' Twin Tone video page), the Monochrome Set (from the U.K.), Tuxedomoon (San Francisco), the Fleshtones (New York), NNB (um, where were they from again?), and Minneapolis legend Curtiss A, whom I always liked, but until seeing this footage couldn't figure out why he was such as national figure at the time. Oh, and anyone who thinks the Rapture have a new idea should see the Contortions' screaming through a brilliant cover of Chic's "Good Times." I'm jumping up and down as I write this...
Devo: Yes, that's a little boy's mask he's wearing. Yes, they're covering Dylan's Christian period. No, I don't know why...
Speaking over the phone Tuesday, co-producer Chris Strouth says he hopes the movie will come out on DVD some day, but doesn't know where or when it will. He arranged this restoration with star videomaker Rick Fuller, who did the visual transfer and editing. A full audio track of the show exists (the already very good sound I heard on the promo tape was remastered in Hollywood by Bob DaMaa). To narrow down hours of footage, Fuller (who saw the festival) and Strouth called upon a team of experts who were at the event: Drew Miller from Boiled in Lead, John Kass, and Tom Bergland. Judging by the testimony of my colleague Brad Zellar, it was, for many people, their first glimpse of punk rock in Minneapolis.
So where did this footage languish all these years?
Turns out it was sitting in the closet of the director's girlfriend. "Four years ago Lester Square from the Monochrome Set called Tom Bergland about the footage," says Strouth. "Tom was a fan, and at the time if you ever wanted to find any old footage, Tom was the guy. He called me and this was the first time I'd hear about the movie. I was in the third grade when the festival happened. But ever since I was a dorky little punk rock kid, I've been hearing that this was the greatest concert ever.
"Now, unlike anything at the Longhorn Bar, we have these images. You see Curtiss A as this young Jerry Lee Lewis. He's just so fierce. I would have been his biggest fan. And I think if I'd seen NNB when I was younger, they would have changed my life. They were one of the greatest punk bands of all time.
"The footage had been saved by the director's girlfriend in her closet in a bedroom for 20 years. When he moved out of town, he just kind of left it there. She wouldn't give it to anyone without getting the go-ahead from him. Well she called Paul Stark, Stark called us, and we put in numerous calls to the director, who never returned our calls. We've never heard back from him, actually. He's kind of an eccentric.
"My main concern was that the tape was flaking, because 3/4-inch video tape doesn't have an extremely long lifespan. Plus it was taped over Hubert H. Humphrey's funeral and memorial service. So Rick and Jagged Edge did a fair amount of doctoring. They used a lot of image enhancers. They deepened the contrast. We've encoded all 15 hours of the footage that we have, and it's going to sit in a vault at the Minnesota Historical Society."
As with so many Sound Unseen events, a party is involved with this film. From 9 to whenever, an after-party will be held at the downtown Pizza Luce featuring DJs Melissa Maerz and Dolores, with complimentary pizza and beer, 21+, free with festival pass, $5 with film ticket, $10 without film ticket. See you there, or see you at...
The same night, coincidentally (and unfortunately, timing-wise), Afro-Punk also premieres, screening before an all-ages concert at the Babylon Cultural Center ($6. 7:00 p.m., 1624 E Lake St, Mpls.; 612.722.5438). This new 75-minute documentary would be rare enough for its subject matter: the experiences of black folks in the American hardcore punk scene. It would also be sought out merely for its amazing live footage of the Iowa City noise-rock band Ten Grand (whose singer Matt Davis, pictured above, died in August 2003 shortly before a planned gig at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis; here's Melissa Maerz's tribute).
But in addition to these assets, Afro-Punk represents the first truly national look at the modern subculture still calling itself DIY punk. (National because it leaves out the U.K., hence Poly Styrene.) Exploring this world through the prism of blackness, Afro-Punk ends up being a tribute to punkness as well. Director James Spooner wisely trains his video camera on unknown fans as well as icons (Fishbone, Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro). He notes hardcore's origins in Bad Brains, lending weight to one interviewee's claim that "punk rock is black music." He skillfully weaves testimony from more than a dozen scenes, never skimping on concert shots and vintage photos. Slowly and subtly, he answers the old and inevitable charge that black punks have somehow made themselves over as white. As one performer puts it, "I don't feel less black because I'm less normal."
What, you want more?
What can I say? Contrary to what many air guitarists believe, big-riff hard rock is not so damn easy. Otherwise there would be a thousand bands as great as AC/DC. And contrary to what many actual guitarists believe, combining big riffs and big pop isn't easy, either, otherwise there'd be a thousand bands as great as Nirvana. As it is, there are no bands as great as Queens of the Stone Age, at least none that aspire to these twin ideals, and though California's most stoned are neither as funny nor as serious as the above, they're groovier than either, which is why they'll pass the jukebox test (along with the White Stripes) long after most of their peers are an embarrassing memory. With the Distillers and the Millionaires. All ages. $25. 6:00 pm
And here's the Radio K 10th Anniversary Showcase and Party at First Avenue tonight, all night, into the night ($7. 5:00 p.m., Wed. Oct. 1, First Avenue and 7th St. Entry, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775)
In 1993 Radio K offered the world of broadcasting the novel and radical notion that you can make hits on AM radio as well as play them--an idea that pumped adrenaline into local music by placing it alongside the national kind, and by treating it all as pop. What binds that principle to tonight's celebration (as well as to the hilarious arcana of Cosmic Slop, the live-local revelations of Off the Record, and to every other great weekly program on KUOM-AM ), is listener enthusiasm. So come celebrate your accomplishments at the early all-ages showcase, featuring some of the best bands in town: the Soviettes, Faux Jean, the Psychedelicates, Mike Brady, and the Owls (who keep getting greater and greater). Stay late for the 18+ dance party in the Mainroom, and for the 21+ show in the 7t St. Entry, with Traditional Methods, A-Bomb Nation, Yawo's Afro-Funk Trio, A Whisper in the Noise, and Superhopper.
Sheesh is all of Rocktober going to be like this?
This weekend there's the national, one-of-a-kind Destijl Festival, the future-of-jazz-in-one-piano-player Matthew Shipp, and also the Suburbs (see M-80) doing a benefit for First Avenue (here's why you should care) and a CD-release at the club:
Non-fans can mutter "nostalgia," but the first thing you notice about the revitalized and reunited Suburbs is that they're so much better. Watching them scream through "Chemistry Set" in The M-80 Project, a lost 1979 new-wave concert film that premieres October 1 at Oak Street Cinema, you see cheeky and frenetic poseurs who probably really do "like chemistry and that's about it." Now that they like more in life than chemicals, the older version rocks with newfound self-amazement and heart (not to mention an agile horn section). They bring their kids onstage for a round of "Baby Heartbeat," which might seem a sentimental gesture at first, but it also makes for just plain, screamy-great party music. Friday's early show (with the Phones opening) is a benefit for First Avenue's nonprofit arm, the Developing Arts and Music Foundation. $15 adv / $20 dr / 6 pm / 21+ID. Saturday's early show (with Jessy Greene, as well as Deb Brown and Blonde Faith opening) is a CD release party for a new Suburbs best-of on Beejtar Records, Chemistry Set: Songs of the Suburbs 1977-1987 (which includes a live concert DVD of their October 2002 shows) $15 adv / $20 dr / 6 pm / 21+ID
(Too bad I'm going to sunny, warm California... [cue lull in blog for two weeks]. See you all in winter hell, suckers!)