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Case Number 17276: Small Claims Court

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Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean & Harry Shearer

Courgette // 2009 // 135 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 16th, 2009

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All Rise...

Talk about bun cakes, Judge Clark Douglas has got 'em!

The Charge

"Tonight, the role of Christopher Guest will be played by Michael McKean, while the role of Michael McKean will be played by Harry Shearer!"

The Case

Actors Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer first collaborated on Rob Reiner's 1984 mockumentary classic, This Is Spinal Tap, in which they offered a satirical take on the wild lives and pretentious tendencies of an '80s rock band. The soundtrack for the film was a considerable success, and tunes like "Big Bottom" and "Hell Hole" even received a good bit of radio play. Considering that the songs are essentially parodies of bad rock songs, it's hard to gauge precisely how much irony there is in such success, but the fact of the matter is that people found them delightful for one reason or another. Guest, McKean, and Shearer continued to collaborate in the world of cinema over the next couple of decades (mostly in films directed by Guest), but surprisingly enough, their musical career continued in its own quiet way. The trio has gone on tour in character as Spinal Tap, in addition to creating a couple of studio albums and recording a wide variety of folk music for the film A Mighty Wind.

The trio has typically only done concerts in character, but this concert gives them the opportunity to wander through their eclectic and amusing musical career as themselves. It's a low-key and charming evening of music that fans of Guest's films should certainly enjoy, though I wonder whether it will seem too obscure for those unfamiliar with the films and albums from which this music originated. I'm a fan myself, so I found the disc a good deal of fun. I expect it will appeal to the sort of folks who enjoy listening to NPR's A Prairie Home Companion, which mixes genuinely excellent musical compositions with knowingly goofy numbers.

The music is by turns smart, silly, sweet, and peculiar, particularly considering that most of it is entirely acoustic. The sound is perfectly natural during the tunes from A Mighty Wind, but it seems exceptionally odd during the This is Spinal Tap heavy metal numbers. The DVD packaging encourages viewers to regard the concert as a chance to watch an intimate jam session with three old friends in their own living room. That seems to be just about the right way to approach the disc, as the atmosphere of the concert is a bit more jovial than (for instance) a classical music performance but considerably more restrained and relaxed than most folk/rock/metal performances.

At least 1/4th of the 135-minute performance is devoted to genial comedy bits, which veer from mildly amusing to laugh-out-loud funny. For instance, the group devotes five minutes to reading the bits of the Spinal Tap script that have to be edited out for network television broadcasts, which is cute in its own mildly naughty way. Stories are told, silly video clips are shown, and we're treated to the sort of entertaining improvisational dialogue exchanges that characterize Guest's mockumentaries. Only rarely does the group hit the sort of comic brilliance they're known for (such as the tune they perform "in 3-D" by extending their guitars towards a pregnant woman wearing 3-D glasses), but hanging out with these guys is an exceptionally pleasant way to spend a couple hours.

The lengthy set list is as follows:

• Celtic Blues, Verse 1
• Hell Hole
• Never Did No Wanderin'
• Clam Caravan
• Rock n' Roll Nightmare
• Bitch School
• Loco Man
• This Bulging River
• All the Way Home
• Blood on the Coal
• (Listen to the) Flower People
• Corn Wine
• The Majesty of Rock
• All Backed Up
• Stonehenge
• A Penny for Your Thoughts
• Start Me Up
• Cups and Cakes
• A Mighty Wind
• Saucy Jack
• Big Bottom
• The Good Book Song
• A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow
• Rainy Day Sun
• (Funky) Sex Farm
• Gimme Some Money
• Old Joe's Place
• Celtic Blues, Verse 2
• Heavy Duty

The transfer is perfectly adequate if somewhat less than remarkable. From time to time detail is lacking and the image seems a bit murky, but otherwise there aren't any problems of note. The audio is quite solid, as the well-recorded music comes through in a clear and well-balanced manner that is quite pleasing. It's not going to overwhelm you, but it's a perfectly solid track. There are no extras included on the disc.

Good-natured and smile-inducing from start to finish, Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean & Harry Shearer is a treat for those who get a goofy grin on their face every time they see a picture of Stonehenge.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: Courgette
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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