Among the new music-related DVDs timed for the holiday shopping season, my
favorite is an exquisite little gem that would be easy to overlook amid the
slew of more high-profile titles: "Jens Hannemann: Complicated Drumming
Technique," recently issued by Chicago's Drag City record label.
Anyone who's ever been serious about mastering an instrument is familiar
with the unique subgenre of instructional videos featuring virtuosic players
attempting to impart their knowledge. Found by the truckload at every Guitar
Center, they are shot in the same sterile but well-lit style; all celebrate
the star's sublime skills more than they teach anything useful, and are all
pretty much unwatchable -- especially those featuring superstar drummers.
Clearly, this was a corner of the music world ripe for lampooning, and
there's no better man for the job than "Saturday Night Live" star, comic
provocateur and former Chicagoan Fred Armisen, who laid down some mean
polyrhythms himself back in the early '90s when he was the drummer in
Trenchmouth. Here, Armisen the chameleon plays two roles: master drummer
Hannemann -- who "has asked to record with such artists as Sheryl Crow, Pat
Metheny Group, Massive Attack, Barenaked Ladies ..." and who "knows
everything there is to know about rudiments, hand-foot control, tempo, time
signatures ..." -- and Victor Benedetto, a considerably less accomplished
but well-meaning schlub who isn't fit to carry Hannemann's Rototoms or gong
Shamelessly hyping his new album "Synchronology," Hannemann and his jazz
fusion combo perform songs such as "Polynesian Nightmare" and "Molecular
Jungle" in concert at the Tampa School of Music before the drummer proceeds
to break down the "very complicated" rhythms, one of which is played in 29/3
time. In between, Benedetto tries to teach aspiring drummers how to change
their snares and tune their drums, but his methods are even harder to follow
than Hannemann's inscrutable grooves.
If you're a civilian, you'll be amused by this DVD, but you may not find
it hysterically funny. Watch it with the muso in your life, however, and
they'll be rolling on the floor.
• • • •
Among the other recent rock DVDs, the big news for Beatles fans is the
two-disc set of "Help!" (Apple/Capitol), the band's second movie with
director Richard Lester, originally released in 1965. Although the songs
include some of the Fab Four's best, with "You've Got to Hide Your Love
Away" and "Ticket to Ride" in addition to the title track, the movie isn't
nearly as good as its predecessor, "A Hard Day's Night," and the sub-James
Bond plot seems particularly cheesy in the wake of "Austin Powers."
Nevertheless, no less a filmmaking great than Martin Scorsese makes an
eloquent case for the movie in the liner notes, which augment DVD extras
such as a making-of documentary, the original trailers and a deleted scene.
Speaking of the Beatles -- or, in the case of Oasis, bands that wish they
were -- "Lord Don't Slow Me Down" (Hip-O) is a DVD set build around
director Baillie Walsh's documentary chronicling the mad swirl and
behind-the-scenes chaos on the best-selling Britpop band's 2005 world tour.
How entertaining you find the often incomprehensible Gallagher brothers will
depend on how big an Oasis fan you are or how much tolerance you have for
mediocre examples of this genre; "Don't Look Back" or "Gimme Shelter" this
certainly is not. But for the devoted, the package is nicely completed with
a full live concert from the same tour, recorded in the boys' hometown of
A much stronger release from another group of '90s heroes is "Nirvana:
Unplugged In New York" (Geffen). Appearing on DVD for the first time,
the TV special captured an acoustic but unbelievably intense performance by
the Seattle trio four months before singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain's suicide
in 1994. This disc features the complete show, which is good and bad: Some
of the covers are revelatory -- David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World,"
the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" and of course the
traditional "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?/In the Pines" -- but the three
collaborations with the Meat Puppets are nothing special, and you have to
wonder why Cobain insisted on sharing the stage with them. This disc does
add additional rehearsal footage, however, as well as an unimpressive MTV
Finally, to ease our anxiety as we count the days until the half-hour
musical sitcom returns, we have "Flight of the Conchords: The Complete
First Season" (HBO Video). Another two-disc set, this one includes the
first 12 episodes charting the struggles and minor-league triumphs of New
Zealand's expatriate indie-rockers, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. I've
said this before, but the duo's spot-on parodies of cool sounds ranging from
Stereolab to Serge Gainsbourg and from Prince to gangsta rap would be
brilliant even if they weren't so funny, and the series is the best
absurdist look at the lives of rock musicians since "The Monkees." If you
doubt that, or you've so far failed to partake in the merriment, start with
episode six, "Bowie," in which the glam icon -- looking strangely like
Jemaine -- appears in several of his most famous guises in an attempt to
help lift Bret out of the dumps.
"Do they smoke grass in space, Bowie / Or do they smoke Astroturf?"
the Conchords sing in a parody of "Space Oddity" that still slays me every
time I hear it, even after half a dozen viewings. The only thing that could
possibly be better would be if Bret and Jemaine had the rhythmic backing of
a great drummer instead of a cheesy beat box. They really ought to ask
Murray the manager to ask Jens Hannemann if he'd be up for the gig.