Friday, December 18, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Concerts = My Weepie

It says something about the age I've reached, and the age I'm in, that the rock 'n' roll concert experience as recorded on DVD has become an invitation to retrieve the hankie and clear the eyes.

"Limp Bizkit?"

Roger Waters, The Wall.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. Sure, it chafes to see -- right in the title, fer cryin' out loud -- one man claim sole ownership to a set of songs that was the product of a group. But the man did, in fact, supply the thematic impetus for those songs, and producer Bob Ezrin freely admits he made it his job to sell Waters' vision to the rest of the band and marshal the project in a direction that ultimately pleased Waters the most. And this film is, finally, a synthesis of Waters' various artistic expressions launched by the initial project.

Let the baby have his bottle, in other words, and you may find the experience deeply affecting.

I did, and do, although the "documentary" elements that intersperse the concert footage frequently grate. Waters isn't an easy guy to be around, no matter how he's framed. But as prickly and as full of himself as he is, Waters still manages his project invitationally, with surprising equanimity. The flash and bombast of Waters' rock show is among the most sensational I've seen. Furthermore, it is interspersed with and informed by portraits of people killed in war, sent in by surviving family members. Thus The Wall, which has existed through the decades as "classic rock's" preeminent solipsistic yawp, transforms into a global howl against the brute stupidity of wars launched by people of "abject" personality.

RUSH, R40 Live. It's a stretch to call this epic-length concert a "weepie" -- unless you're not a fan, and you've foolishly agreed to sit through all three hours of it with a loved one who is -- but bear with me. All these songs from all these albums, through all these years -- if you are a fan, even a middling one, this performance conveys the striking depth of generosity that went into their formation.

I mention the "middling" fan, because I think I qualify. I have a total of four CDs and nine more studio albums via digital means. The CDs get regular play throughout the year, and the other albums are usually pulled up at least once in a given tour around the sun. I have clear favourites, in other words -- Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, plus one more.* Which distinguishes me as the least distinguished RUSH fan ever.

I do love their concert DVDs, however -- and this one in particular, for the way it highlights songs I give little-to-no airplay. By concert's end I was quite moved -- it's a joyous, celebratory affair.

Neal Peart: "How did I get myself into this?"
Devin Townsend Presents: Ziltoid, Live At The Royal Albert Hall. Another epic-length concert, the first third of which is the entirety of Townsend's demented space-opera, performed to spec with actual puppets.
It's a "Poozer," if you have to ask.
The final two-thirds is an all-request set, which he solicited via social media. To my surprise, not one of the songs sung has a spot in the "most played" column of my infernal device (though the performance of "Namaste" is sure to get there pretty quickly). The set-list swings from raucous to meditative and back again, until Townsend settles into "The Death of Music," a ten-plus-minute magnum opus he's brought to the mic for nearly 20 years of performing. It's a song that contains multitudes, and hearing it after everything that's preceded it brings into sharp focus the existential themes Townsend teases apart and knots up again through everything he does -- including, especially, the sophomoric puppet show: identity, longing, family, the ties that bind and check us from indulging our worst impulses.

He closes the night with his son's favourite song -- "Universal Flame" -- says "thanks" to mom and dad, who are in attendance, then puts down the guitar so he can give hugs to everyone who made the show possible, including his wife and kid, who were standing behind him and singing along.

Prog Metal as an act of familial gratitude? Count me in.

*Full disclosure: much as I enjoyed the R40 performance, I appreciated it most for sending me back to the Clockwork Angels concert -- the most beautiful of RUSH's stage performances, IMO.

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