Judge Mike Rubino is the same as he ever was.
"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around"—David Byrne
David Byrne and Brian Eno play well together. They've crafted some of the best Talking Heads songs, messed with found recordings of exorcisms, and pumped out public radio hits like the 2009 album "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today." Ride, Rise, Roar is a fitting celebration not only of their musical partnership, but of collaboration in general.
Facts of the Case
Ride, Rise, Roar is both a concert film and a documentary, combining footage from the 2009 tour with interviews of David Byrne, Brian Eno, and the various musicians, dancers, and singers involved in the production.
The setlist includes: "Once in a Lifetime," "Life is Long," "I Zimbra," "Road to Nowhere," "One Fine Day," "The Great Curve," "My Big Nurse," "Burning Down the House," "Houses in Motion," "Air," "Life During Wartime," "Heaven," "I Feel My Stuff," and "Everything that Happens will Happen Today."
When I saw this tour in Pittsburgh, I was up in the nosebleed balcony of Carnegie Music Hall. They were the cheapest seats in the house, but they offered a great view of the entire stage. Byrne, decked out in an appropriately fitting white suit (unlike others he's worn in the past), played a review of his career-long collaboration with Brian Eno; it was an eclectic mix of music, modern dance, and showmanship all combined into a great concert experience.
It's unrealistic to expect Ride, Rise, Roar to capture the concert as I saw it. Really, who would want to see a concert movie filmed from the highest, cheapest seats? Director Hillman Curtis isn't going for a seamless concert experience here; instead, he deconstructs the show into isolated songs and behind-the-scenes interviews. It stands in sharp contrast to Jonathan Demme's masterful Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense. While that film is seen ostensibly from the audience perspective, Roar is from the artist's.
David Byrne is a renaissance man. He's responsible for not only an expansive catalogue of music but also a bunch of poetry books, art installations, sculptures, and films. He's got a strong vision that apparently works well for collaboration—he's recently been teaming up with folks like Fatboy Slim and Arcade Fire. But if this concert proves anything, it's that his best stuff is with Eno. Here, Byrne's music is as soulful and frenetic as ever. From their earliest Talking Heads stuff to "Everything that Happens will Happen Today," Byrne and the band play to perfection. You'd think he would be bored of playing "Burning Down the House" and "Once in a Lifetime" by now; instead Byrne looks energized by his dancers and backup singers. When you hear "Road to Nowhere" alongside new songs like "One Fine Day," it's clear he's still got the stuff.
Roar isn't all music, though. Filmed in black and white, the interviews between each song provide insight into the tour's creative process. Byrne wanted modern dance integrated into the show, so the choreographers came up with some creative movements that utilize both the stage space and props like office chairs and guitars. Their dance moves are often at odds with Byrne's grimly optimistic lyrics, but it works as a fun juxtaposition. Byrne, at the healthy age of 57, keeps up pace, knowing when to get out of the dancers' way and when to jog with them. As the film progresses and the creative process is fully realized, the interviews feel less important. If anything, they eventually hurt the concert's momentum, breaking up songs with too many talking heads.
The concert footage itself is a balance of straight-on crowd POV and colorful angles with snappy editing. The video comes from a number of venues, but everything meshes seamlessly thanks to sparsely employed wide angles and crowd shots—as a result, the audience feels strangely like an afterthought. A bigger issue is that the dance footage is often at too close and too sharp of an angle. The dancing occasionally becomes a blur of spins, leaps, and elbows while some of the cooler choreographed moments are lost in the edits. Roar's cinematography wanders dangerously close to the music video trap, but narrowly avoids stepping in it. Curtis's approach is ultimately pretty good, and the performance is strong enough to make the random weird edit forgivable.
Eagle Rock has done an admirable job on the Blu-ray release. The 1080i video transfer is sharp and colorful; the black and white footage is just as clean, although the contrast is a little too soft. The music sounds fantastic, of course, coming in DTS HD Master, Dolby Digital, and LPCM stereo tracks. As I mentioned, the audience is toned down a bit, making this feel more like a "theater show" than a thundering "rock concert." The biggest disappointment with this disc is the complete lack of supplements—which is a shame given that there are plenty of songs that didn't make the film's final cut.
Ride, Rise, Roar is nowhere near as good as Stop Making Sense. It's also not the same kind of movie. While Demme's Talking Heads film is all about a grand concert experience, Roar is a more modest exploration of the creative vision and collaboration necessary to put a tour together. You see how the dances were choreographed, how musicians learned the songs, and how Byrne blended it all into a cohesive whole. The result is a fun, energetic concert experience that is worth seeing and revisiting.
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