Film / Video Reviews
The Ramones DVD reviewed by Steve Miller
Oct 15, 2007, 04:15
In August, 2004, I was working with Johnny Ramone on his memoirs, and it was the end of a sobering 6 months spent talking with him every day. We spoke about his life, his music and everything in between. And on this particular day, the summer daylight ebbing at his home in the hills between Sunset and The Valley, we stopped talking for a little while and he plunked a video into the player of The Ramones playing in Italy in 1980 on a tour with the UK Subs. This was early '80, and a version of The Ramones that had lost some of its sheen. But the show was a killer, and it was clear that even at that relatively late point in their prime, the band really raged.
When I got this review copy of It's Alive, it was surprised to find that Italy show wasn't in there. Upon watching every single minute of this, and more than a little of it at least twice, I realize that The Ramones built up an amazing bank of educational video, stuff that any hopeful band should get with for several weeks before pretending to be anything other than entertainment for their drunken pals.
It's Alive comes with an astonishing blur of top-of-the line performances. It is clear in watching their June, 1977 show at CBGBs, that no one could top them. This is a band that lost its way, of course, by 1981, first working with Graham Gouldman (10CC) and cranking out a number of terrible albums in the same way Iggy managed to sink some of his credibility in that era. At least The Ramones stopped.
Johnny said that most bands had only two or three good albums in them anyway, and it was clear the Ramones were one of them. He cited the Stones and The Who as exceptions to the rule (legal constraints prohibit me from noting anything more about our conversations—look for the book in the future).
For the top stops here, go directly, though, to 1978, on Musikladen in Bremen, Germany in September, 1978.Â Starting midway through the set, at “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” the flip switches and the band soars. And it's every bit as good at the video version of the live LP that this comp is named for. For five songs, The Ramones deliver the finest rock music that has even been made. It's worth the price of admission.
The bad stuff is really bad, and watching The Ramones play on big stages in places like Buenos Aires or Seinajoki, Finland is just discouraging. They look silly and after watching the pure stuff from the start of their career, it becomes quickly apparent that they had no heart to play together any more. It is also evident that had they written songs like “I Believe in Miracles” or “Animal Boy” in 1975, the tunes would have been as memorable as “Rockaway Beach” or “Judy is a Punk.” The songs weren't as much a problem as their lives and how they were affected by their success. Rhino did a greate job of assembling this collection, and it is clearly a document that will prove that this was one of the most important bands that ever played. And the good news is that there is more video material out there, waiting for another day. [Rhino]
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