My January 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 320.
MESSIN' WITH THE KID
Growing up in Boston in the '70s and '80s the local music scene had a mythical quality to me. I didn't think about it as such at the time. I just thought there were so many great and (I thought) really famous bands in Boston. None was more legendary than the Remains. Although they broke up years before I was born, The Real Kids sang how "it don't seem the same without the Remains" in their song "Better Be Good". The Real Kids meant it as a put down of people who weren't into the at the time current '70s Boston music scene, but it still made me wonder. What was it about the Remains?
America's Lost Band: Barry and The Remains explores the surprisingly short and overlooked career of the band as well as their reformation in the '00s. The band should have been popular, but they never really broke out of the Boston Area. Some speculate that perhaps they called it quits too soon.
The Remains formed in 1964 at Boston University. They wrote catchy garage pop songs and were soon packing them in at the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. They released successful local singles for Epic Records. That popularity earned them television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo. Then their seemingly biggest opportunity came as the opening band for the Beatles' 1966 tour. After the tour and before the release of their debut LP the Remains broke up.
The most disappointing thing about America's Lost Band: Barry and The Remains is that lead singer Barry Tashian's diary kept during the Beatles tour is the most interesting part of the documentary. Tashian recalls that his father encouraged him to write the diary. Tashian reads from it while footage of the tour is shown. Of course, the footage that is mostly available is of the Beatles. The majority of what Tashian writes is about the Beatles too. Not everyone gets to tour with the Beatles so I am sure it was pretty exciting. If youÕre a Beatles' fan this inside information is probably amazing. But if you want to see a documentary about the Remains then it is a bit underwhelming. Plus there isnÕt much to the film leading up to the Beatles tour either.
When the older Remains gather forty years later at Dodger's Stadium to recall playing there it is a bit more interesting. They remember watching the show from the dugout. They feel lucky that they were the first band on the bill. When they started to play people were really excited and screamed for them like they were the Beatles. The next two acts didn't get such good treatment since people were starting to get tired of waiting for the Beatles to come out.
Drummer Chip Damiani didn't go on the Beatles tour deciding that he preferred that people pay attention to the Remains for their own music. He knew that wouldn't happen if they played with the Beatles. When asked if he regretted it, he half-jokingly says that what he regrets is always being asked that question. If he had done the tour he wouldn't have to answer that one question. Even today he doesn't regret it. Tashian feels that Damiani not going on the tour was what broke the Remains up. The replacement drummer just wasn't the same.
As is usually the case the majority of America's Lost Band: Barry and The Remains focuses on the band's reformation. There is a lot of footage of that. The band plays at Amoeba Records in LA and performs some festival and club shows. The Remains appear to be enjoying themselves. Plus they maintain a sensible attitude that now the pressure is off and they can just play for fun. The Remains
The Australians seem to have taken the idea behind my favorite guilty pleasure DVD series "Under Review" and have done it the real way. Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded sets up the scene for the recording of the Saints seminal debut album. Interestingly the people responsible for the documentary manage to interview the two main Saints: singer Chris Bailey and guitarist Ed Keupper as well as album producer Rod Coe. That would seem an impossibility to anyone at "Under Review". There are also interviews with Rob Younger of Radio Birdman, Nick Cave of The Birthday Party, Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens, Iain Shedden of the Jolt (who would later play drums in the Saints) and many other Australian musicians who were influenced by The Saints when they first started. Interviewing this many people actually involved or present at the time really adds to the authenticity of the story.
Bailey and Keupper met in high school during a detention. Bailey was the bad kid always getting into trouble. Keupper was a straight A student who had a rebellious tendency. The two bonded over music and started the band. Both are very open about the band and what happened during the time recording the album. Bailey now sort of resembles Bono and is as arrogant, but apparently he was back then as well. Unfortunately, bass player Kym Bradshaw and drummer Ivor Hay are not interviewed. Instead Bailey describes them, stating they may not "technically be the world's best rhythm section". He gives them a few backhanded comments as well.
The band formed in Brisbane, Australia amid some political unrest under the government of Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, the Queensland Premier. People are shown being arrested in the streets. Police harassment was rampant. The band rented halls to put on their own shows. Then they self-released their first record. The record is chosen by Sounds in England as the single of the year. Bailey sarcastically recalls "how bloody fabulous".
The highlight of Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded is the live footage of the band. Almost every song from the album is shown being performed at an amazing show at Paddington Town Hall. The footage and the sound is excellent. During "Nights In Venice" Chris Bailey sits on the floor in front of the stage. People are dancing wildly around him. He slyly glares into the camera that is close up on his face. The song ends and he walks through the crowd toward the back. There are also some other great live performances and their appearance on Top Of the Pops, as well as some cool clips of Radio Birdman. Ideally all these live performances would have been shown in their entirety as a DVD extra, but they are not.
There is also an interview with the band at the time of the first record. They are cute and humble, probably still astonished at what was happening. They joke about pressing 500 singles and sending off 400 of them to the press. Later when Bailey is interviewed in London he has a bit more disdain for what is going on in the punk scene. Fortunately Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded ends with the Saints moving to England, wisely choosing to stay focused only on the one album.
The Saints "(I'm) Stranded" has always been one of my favorite albums. Yet, after watching Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded it was as if I just discovered it. I wanted to listen to it over and over again. I can't stop. Great Australian Albums
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.