Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Danko Jones — Live At Wacken [Blu-ray/CD review]

Released on January 29th

For an artist that’s built his reputation extensively on his band’s high-energy shows, Danko Jones has made fans wait an agonizingly long time for an official release that properly captures the Danko Jones live music experience visually. The 2012 DVD release Bring On The Mountain offered an excellent visual history of the band that included career-spanning live clips, but their quality varied and didn’t convey the true nature of a Danko Jones show. Now 20 years after forming, Toronto’s Jones, co-founding bassist John ‘JC’ Calabrese, and newest drummer Rich Knox (the latest in a long line of great players that Jones has had behind the kit) finally release Live At Wacken on Blu-ray and DVD, packaged with a companion CD. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be focussing on the Blu-ray content since the CD contains the same audio.

Live At Wacken documents Jones’ August 2015 set at Germany’s Wacken Open Air festival, the world’s largest metal festival. Wacken regularly sells out its tens of thousands of tickets a year in advance before the band lineups are even announced. Jones is clearly amped to be playing for the third time at the festival, with numerous appreciative acknowledgements to his participating bands and the sizeable crowd. The minimal stage production befits the no-frills style of Jones’ music, which is a hybrid of punk, metal, hard rock, and a touch of the blues. The concert is well-shot and the sound is excellent, but audiophiles may be miffed at the lack of surround sound options — there’s surprisingly just a lone “Stereo” option here, aside from the “Stereo” option paired with Jones’ commentary track on the extras.

The trio efficiently burns through 18 songs in just 70 minutes, with a slight emphasis on tracks from that year’s earlier Fire Music album (the cowbell-heavy “Do You Wanna Rock” works especially well). The rest of the setlist is comprised of a nice scattering of some of the band’s strongest material and welcome obscurities, including “Sugar Chocolate” (the first track on Jones’ debut EP release), Born A Lion bonus track “The Rules”, and more recent nugget “Sugar High”. Heavier songs like “The Twisting Knife”, “Invisible”, “Gonna Be A Fight Tonight”, “Had Enough”, and perennial set closer “Bring On The Mountain (Become The Mountain)” cement the band’s qualifications to be playing on the festival’s True Metal Stage. “Bring On The Mountain” never fails to disappoint — I do miss the days, though, where Jones would beat himself up during its performances (he had to stop in 2006 after detaching a retina from one too many self-slaps to the face). The one weak spot in their setlist is the boringly repetitive “Legs” (that word is repeated about 50 times during the song), although it always gets a good laugh when the singer redundantly explains at its conclusion that “It’s a song about women’s legs”. The set’s slim running time raises a couple of questions, such as why this package omitted the one other song played that day (“Active Volcanoes”) and why some of Jones’ always entertaining between-song banter was edited out, as he reveals on the Blu-ray’s commentary track.

Blu-ray extras: a 50 minute featurette of Jones’ spoken word performance from 2012’s Wacken festival proved to be a real chore to get through. The studiously dressed Jones, a KISS fanatic, presents a mock conspiracy theory that original KISS drummer Peter Criss died in 1978 and the band has since been covering it up and paying homage to Criss with subtle tributes in their album cover art and via backward messages on their recordings. The audience in the tented structure offer occasional laughs at Jones’ bizarre premise, but mostly they just look confused. Things get even weirder (which I didn’t think was possible) when the tongue-in-cheek presentation concludes with a loopy video featuring a cheeseball rendition of “Beth” by Jones in KISS makeup and costume. It’s all highly surreal, but not enough to really be entertaining. Other extras include a solid 20 minute post-show interview, plus a fascinating full-length show commentary from Jones. The unique commentary delivers great insight into topics such as what it’s like commanding a stage in front of an estimated crowd of 40,000 to 70,000 people, setlist choices, and the creative process behind certain songs. One of the most illuminating anecdotes revealed something I’d wondered about for years and never heard an explanation for — why all of Jones’ drummers use radically stripped-down kits without any rack toms, which is a real rarity in heavy music. The answer? It’s just a band signature that's consistent with Jones’ “simplicity ethos”.

Rating: B

Related Mediaboy Musings posts: my January 2013 review of Danko Jones' Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue album

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