Judge Adam Arseneau was disappointed when he got this DVD because he thought it was going to be a new sequel to the hit-movie franchise The Skulls. You know, like The Skulls 4: Night of the Living Skulls?
The Skulls live at the El Ray Theater, Los Angeles!
The Skulls, who originally formed in 1977, were one of the seminal punk bands in the LA scene until the underground movement cracked open like a rotten egg and sent punk rockers scattering in all directions. However, their influence was still felt in the younger generation of bands who were raised on a diet of their music and live performances, especially in their native California, where the old-school style still has a strong following.
The story of the band seems to go something like this: Billy Bones, the original singer many years retired, gets cajoled into coming to see a young band play a live cover of a Skulls song. Of course, he is then lured onto stage to sing a song with the band. It goes very well. The band asks him if they could cover another Skulls song in the future. "Hell," he says, "take 'em all. They're just sitting around anyway. I'll even sing 'em for you."
And lo, the Skulls were reborn for a new generation.
This two-disc set includes a DVD containing the live concert video and all the extra materials, and the second disc is an audio CD (which is also for sale separately) containing the performance for your listening pleasure. The set, which runs about 45 minutes in length, contains the following raucous songs:
1. Aye Aye Aye
Punk rock concert DVDs are always a lot of fun, because the onstage antics always keep you entertained. The Skulls' singer, Billy Bones, seems to be taking his un-retirement with great stride, and has a great taunting, sneering aged punk rock frontman presence, looking like Billy Idol but moving and acting like Ozzy Osborne in that half-crazed, half-tired sort of way. The rest of his band flies around the stage in progressive levels of energy based on their age, something one would expect from an old-school punk band with a 30-year age difference between its members. The older members are happy to stand still while the young guitar player barely lands his feet on the ground for entire songs.
The performance itself, which takes up the majority of this disc, is okay, but compared to most concert DVDs today, it's lacking in video quality and audio fidelity. But, after all, this is a punk rock show, and audio fidelity takes a back seat to raw energy, high-kicks, and energetic performances. Like many bands of the day, the songs of the Skulls play four-chord variations straight through with a maniacally metronome punk rock beat, and of course, most songs end slightly over the two-minute margin. Fans of bands like the Vibrators, X-Ray Spex, the Stiffs, and other LA-based punk bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s will feel quite at home with the newly re-formed Skulls' sound. For everyone else…well, they do a great cover of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line." Which is something at least, right?
Video quality is a step below good, and a step above terrible, in the uncomfortable middle range low-end transfer realm that is very hard to accurately review. The transfer is a murky, choppy, pixelated affair with some brutal edges and ugly anti-aliasing creeping in, especially during scenes of fast movement. Colors are muted in the red, blue, and gray range, and black levels are moderate. Basically, the transfer looks exactly like it was recorded live at a punk rock show on moderately expensive equipment. For a punk rock band, this would probably be a half-decent transfer, but you can't even begin to compare a disc like this to a real, major-release concert DVDs. This is punk rock, baby; things are supposed to be ugly. Or at least, I keep telling myself that.
Audio is a step up, quality-wise, capturing the recording with a fair-to-impressive range of fidelity (again, punk rock band here). Bass response is reasonable, and though the track hardly touches the rear channel in any noticeable way, the performance is captured with authenticity and energy. The soundtrack is certainly a passable one; and I assure you, it doesn't make you want to take beer bottles and smash them on your face while skanking around in a pit, screaming at the top of your lungs. Seriously. And where I come from, that's a good thing. Oi, oi, oi.
Though the concert itself is nothing to write home about, the DVD includes a reasonable offering of additional content (not including the aforementioned full-length audio CD). Included is a wide variety of interview material—recorded conversations from previous band members, seminal members of the Los Angeles 1970s punk scene recounting past drunken antics, and a nine-year old kid who got the Skulls to play at his birthday party. This is of particular note because it's so gosh-darn cute. As the band plays outside, the birthday boy hits an empty swimming pool and skates up and down to the music. While the footage is a peculiar hodge-podge of home videos and pseudo-interviews more likely to appeal to fans of the band, the casual will find the extra content amusing and pleasant…The Skulls seem to be genuinely nice guys.
As an added incentive to buy the DVD version, the disc contains the password for a secret fan website, where additional bonus and never-before seen material can be downloaded—always a fun feature for fans.
But overall, this DVD didn't get me too excited. I suspect that this stems from my own personal feelings on the subject of punk rock. My musical taste from childhood includes bands similar to the Skulls, and irritatingly, I can name dozens of old-school punk bands from whom I would rather see a live DVD appear. The Skulls put on a good enough show, but hundreds of punk bands from the 1970s to the present day do it just as well, if not better; and frankly, outside of their native California, the Skulls are hardly the stuff of legend.
This disc does have some things going for it, no doubt. Diehard fans can hardly go wrong with Night of the Living Skulls, as the disc crams a well-captured performance together with many extra features and an audio CD to boot. You have to applaud the low-budget, punk rock do-it-yourself attitude in an old-school band releasing a live DVD; after all, the DVD availability of old-school punk bands is slim, so any contribution to the genre is certainly a good thing. But alas, methinks this disc is not quite good enough to start a punk rock revolution all over again. A shame, really…I would've been all over that like white on rice.
Night of the Living Skulls may not be the best DVD, concert-wise, but it definitely makes me want to go dust off all my old punk and hardcore 7'' records from high school. And that is worth something in my book.
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