You would think that a concert film that featured twenty or so hardcore, new wave, post-punk, synth-pop, and reggae bands at the height of their cultural relevancy might make for one tedious night at the movies. Well, that's where you'd be wrong. If this flick had been made, oh, let's say, the mid-1970s, you could make that argument. But the artists who appear in Urgh! A Music War, unlike the bloated stadium rock of the previous decade, know how to convey their message in a highly succinct manner. Moving at a brisk pace, the film wonderfully captures what it must felt like to be a cool person in 1981. Despite the presence of bands like, The Police and UB40, two bands that ooze a sickly form of undiluted squareness. Actually, I'd like to back away from that statement a bit by saying that the sight of The Police's Andy Summers wailing on that weird-looking guitar while standing atop a post-apocalyptic mound of torn fabric in the music video for the title track from their Synchronicity album was one of the defining images of my youth. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, despite the presence of bands who failed to sonically moisturize my scabby flesh, and the fact there's not a single close up of Jane Wiedlin in the entire movie (a special note to any editors out there: if you have footage of Jane Wiedlin playing guitar, whether it be with The Go-Go's or as a solo artist, use as much it as humanly possible), the film, directed by Derek Burbidge with a workmanlike efficiency (there's very little in regard to dilly dallying), managed to rekindle my love-hate relationship with concert going. It's true, the idea of getting dressed up in your fanciest duds (i.e. the black army jacket without the frayed collar), waiting for what seems like an eternity for the band you want to see to hit the stage, only to have some unwashed degenerate constantly stepping on your foot might sound awful, it's actually... Wait a minute, I can't believe there was a time when I used to pay money to have my shoes ruined, and, not to mention, spend an entire evening almost getting kicked in the face (I'm looking in your general direction Spooky-era Lush fans). Yeah, while that's on the cusp of being interesting, even a stick protruding from a puddle of lumpy sick like me has to admit that the synergy between a band, even if they use backing tapes, and an audience, even if they're drunk racists, can be quite the exhilarating spectacle.
The best way the watch Urgh! A Music War is to not know the order in which the artists appear on stage, as I find that it keeps the viewer on his or her toes. What I mean is, part of the fun is trying to figure out what band you're looking at before their credit pops up on the screen. And since the band's name and the location of the venue are all that appear onscreen (sorry, no song titles), the film has a straightforward, no-nonsense feel about it (the thought of some cheesy radio personality introducing the bands makes me cringe for some reason). Culled from concert footage shot in city's such as London, New York City, and Los Angeles, the bands simply show up on stage, and, if they don't suck, blow us away with their prowess when it comes to making new wave and post-punk music.
Straight out of the gate, the biggest surprise has to be the way an obscure band called Invisible Sex (a band so obscure, the internet doesn't even seem to know they exist) managed to out-Devo Devo with their strange stage show (they appear on stage wearing hazmat suits and wield cardboard guitars at one point); my favourite non-crowd surfing audience member was the guy in the white shirt with the mustache–you can spot him in the front row at a couple of the L.A. gigs (there was something about the way he danced without moving that appealed to me); I liked the leopard print blazer this punk chick outside the Lyceum Theatre (it's hands down the best animal print themed garment in the entire movie); and I'd like to give a general shout out to all the bass players in Urgh!
Top Ten Urgh! A Music War Performances: #1 -- The Cramps - "Tear It Up" – I don't know what I enjoyed more, Poison Ivy's sneering contempt or Lux Interior's low-rise leather trousers. Let's just say I enjoyed both equally and leave it at that. Attacking the shady-looking audience with their unique brand of psychobilly punk rock, Lux Interior, who takes microphone consumption while barely clothed to a whole new level of awesomeness, and Poison Ivy, who shreds it while giving everyone the impression she doesn't give a shit (the nonchalant gum chewing was also a nice touch), want you to "tear this damn place up," and judging by the melted faces of the saps in the front row, they succeeded in doing so. Fashion: I've got to give up to Lux Interior and his low-rise leather trousers, as they're the stuff of hip-revealing legend. And sticking with the trouser theme, I would totally wear Poison Ivy's super-tight gold lamé trousers if I was stranded on a desert island and the only way to get the rescue party's attention was to don a pair of super-tight gold lamé trousers.
#2 -- Wall of Voodoo - "Back in Flesh" – While Stan Ridgway was reciting the song's lyrics in his usual Ridgwalian manner (he also plays the organ), I couldn't help but notice how much he looks like Griffin Dunne circa After Hours. Anyway, kudos to Wall of Voodoo for being the only group in the movie to employ a drum machine, and to Bruce Moreland for that slick bass line. Fashion: Lot's of drab t-shirts (a nice mix of sleeveless and sleeved) paired with dark slacks. "Telephone call for Wall of Voodoo."
#3 -- Au Pairs - "Come Again" – On the surface, the luminous Lesley Woods and an antsier-than-usual Paul Foad appear to be taking turns singing on a peppy dance rock number. However, if you delve a little deeper, you'll find is that they're actually having a frank discussion about the quality of the involuntary contractions that occur within the muscles of their genitals during sexual intercourse. Fashion: As this conversation is taking place, bass player Jane Munro is looking fab in a turquoise t-shirt.
Hey, "Welcome to the Ritz" lady. I was wondering if you might wanna go get a slice of pizza after the show? I hear the joint down the street has a Galaga game.
#4 -- Klaus Nomi - "Total Eclipse" – If you have seen the documentary The Nomi Song, then you know this isn't the true "Klaus Nomi Experience" (keen observers will notice that his usual sidekicks, Joey Arias and Janus, have been replaced by leotard-wearing dancers and that his back-up band have been replaced with a bunch of aging hippies). But, as they say, a little Nomi is better than no Nomi, and Klaus Nomi destroys all comers with his kooky mix of opera and new wave. Fashion: The classic Nomi outfit, which includes a futuristic tuxedo jacket, black tights, white gloves, and a pair of black pointy boots. Oh, and make sure to stick around for the film's closing credits to hear Klaus's "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix."
#5 -- The Alley Cats - "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore" – When this trio, featuring husband-and-wife duo Randy Stodola (guitar and vocals) and Dianne Chai (bass and vocals), and drummer John McCarthy, hit the stage, I was like, "who are these losers?" But they managed to win me over with their straightforward, L.A.-tinged punk rock. No silly string required, these guys simply rock. Fashion: White shirts paired with jeans.
#6 -- Toyah Wilcox - "Danced" – Look at her! Fashion: Toyah's jumping jacks and new wave-friendly poses are complimented by one square-shaped earring that was hung on an angle in her right ear, two giant gold bracelets on each arm, and a black mesh top.
#7 -- The Go-Go's - "We Got the Beat" – It's probably been covered/butchered by Selena Gomez, the cast of Glee, and countless others over the years, but nothing can touch the original by The Go-Go's, especially when it's performed at the Whiskey A G-Go in 1981 (the band arrive at the gig in the back of a pick-up truck). Seriously, the spunk trickling oh-so playfully from Gina Schock and the girls during "We Got the Beat" is downright infectious. Sure, guitarist Jane Wiedlin is out frame for most of the song (to the uninitiated, they might be mistaken for a foursome), but I'm not gonna let a little thing like that ruin what was a rousing performance. Fashion: Belinda Carlisle looked yummy in an orange Chinese-style dress (I also dug the matching headband), drummer Gina Schock wore this cool polka dot top, Jane Wiedlin looked relaxed in a teal t-shirt and a pair of tropical themed trousers (yeah, she was onscreen long enough for me to remember what she was wearing), guitarist Charlotte Caffey rocked a pair of white boots (her black nylons only exacerbated their whiteness), and bass player
#8 -- Gang of Four - "He'd Send In the Army" – I don't know what Jon King is hitting to make that sound, but I like it. Fashion: Semi-puffy dress shirts in a wide range of colours.
#9 -- Oingo Boingo - "Ain't This the Life" – While not as catchy as "Dead Man's Party," as overplayed as "Weird Science," or even as creepy as "Little Girls," Danny Elfman and his band, which includes a horn section, still manage to get the kids moving (i.e. slam dancing) with this lively number. Fashion: A sleeveless white undershirt. Duh.
#10 -- Gary Numan - "Down in the Park" – Don't get me wrong, I love the futuristic go-cart thingy Gary drives around during his performance of this classic track (the steering device was located near his crotch). It's just that, after the novelty has worn off, it doesn't exactly make for compelling television (I didn't expect him to remain seated the entire song). That being said, I will always, no matter what the circumstances, choose Gary Numan over Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. He is, to quote Frank Booth from Blue Velvet, "so fucking suave." Fashion: Underneath all that smoke, it looked like Gary was wearing some kind of red leather getup.
Since I've already mentioned my favourite non-crowd surfing audience member, I guess now is a good time as any to revel who was the absolute bee's knees when it came to crowd surfing. It was no contest: the woman in the Selecter t-shirt at The Go-Go's show was definitely my fave crowd surfing audience member. Not only was she thrown around like an overly molested rag doll, she also managed to briefly reestablish my love for ska band t-shirts ("briefly" because Sting insists on wearing a Beat t-shirt during The Police numbers; way to go, grandpa).
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