(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DVD review - It Might Get Loud (2009)

Music is fundamentally an exercise in cooperation and contrast. Harmony and melody, dynamics, tension and release...each side provides context and for the other. It Might Get Loud takes three very different guitarists, all from the big tent of rock music and illustrates this idea perfectly. On many points, the three find common ground, but just as often, they strike out in their own direction. Each comes from a different generation, each has his own challenges in his past, and they've all developed their unique relationship with the same instrument.

Jimmy Page is the patriarch of the group, recounting legendary history with Led Zeppelin and his earlier session work. His approach is intuitive and organic. He describes writing Stairway to Heaven to be "like an orgasm", building in tempo and all focused on achieving a crescendo. When he talks about Link Wray's The Rumble, he mimes along with the playing, explaining it but also immersing himself in that moment.

The Edge harnesses technology to chase an elusive sound. He describes the early days of U2 when they had total commitment to music, without quite knowing how they would realize their goals. He is quite analytical and thoughtful, which provides a deeper insight into both the band and his style of playing. It's interesting to hear him talk about writing Sunday, Bloody Sunday or breaking down a guitar sound because he creates the moment with such clarity.

Jack White, on the other hand, has an atavistic tendency. Steeped in traditional blues, he craves the rawness of pure emotional expression. At the same time, he has a masochistic sense that, by stressing or punishing himself, he can spur himself to greater art. Early in the film, he was stiff and affected, seeming too conscious of the camera and insecure with his part in the group. As the movie progressed, this changed as he was better able to articulate some of his rationale for being such a contrarian.

Choosing Jack White as the third guitarist was one of Davis Guggenheim's more debatable decisions. I came to appreciate it, though. White is enough of an iconoclast to stand out in the group and his perspective balanced with the others. Staying within the realm of rock guitar, it's hard to think of a better alternative. Prince? He's doesn't really represent the more recent generation of the genre. My Morning Jacket's Jim James? It's hard to say whether he has the strength of personality to carry this off. Now, if this were expanded beyond just rock, then someone like Charlie Hunter or Keller Williams would have been good contenders, albeit less popularly known than Jack White.

The movie is loosely structured, switching between one-on-one interviews, historical footage, group discussion, and loose jams. I would have liked more of the jams: moments like In My Time of Dying (Led Zeppelin), where the three guitarists trade slide licks, were magical. Similarly, in the deleted scenes, watching the three play around with Seven Nation Army (White Stripes), was great.

It Might Get Loud is not just a movie for guitarists; it's for anyone interested in the artistic process. Maybe a good gueuze beer is the perfect match: a blending of different vintages of wild fermented beers, taking on the strengths of each.

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