DVD Review: Grails – Acid Rain

August 20, 2009

As one of the most eclectic, trippy bands currently putting out records, Portland, Oregon’s Grails is a perfect candidates for a music DVD. The instrumental band’s jaw-dropping live shows need to be seen to believed, and their prodigious output ensures fans no shortage of great, fresh psychedelic music. During the band’s most productive period (2006-2008), several high quality releases have helped Grails’ reputation as one of this modern era’s most important groups. Their first DVD, Acid Rain is no small feat. The disc includes several music videos which explore the band’s cinematic tendencies, as well as nearly two hours of live performances. Although no video footage can truly capture such an enigmatic and heady performance, the inclusion of the music videos serve as a near-perfect representation of how one might feel in the presence of such far-out sounds.

“Predestination Blues” is awash in color, featuring films of a volcano overflowing with lava, snake charmers, billowing smoke, and the Northern Lights juxtaposed to herds of cattle moving in slow motion across some great expanse. Band member Emil Amos assembled the recycled footage and set it to music. The addition of these obscure clips gives tracks like “Take Refuge” and “The Natural Man” — which were already cinematic enough on record — new meaning. The beautiful collages don’t always seem to fit perfect with the music, but those moments where there appears harmony between sound and vision are amazing. For me, these six videos are the highlight of the DVD.

Live at the Knitting Factory, November 2007, features a combination of tunes from Burning Off Impurities and Doomsdayer’s Holiday (plus one from Take Refuge In Clean Living): “Reincarnation Blues”, “Silk Rd.”, “Take Refuge”, “Immediate Mate”, “Predestination Blues”, “Burning Off Impurities” and “Origin-ing”. The band comes off sounding very Middle Eastern and very heavy. Some of the same footage used in the music videos appears between songs to aid the experience, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect as when viewed separately from the live show. Still, it is a brilliant technique for engaging viewers on a level that is different from 98% of the other music DVDs I’ve viewed. I wouldn’t have thought that the foursome (electric guitar and bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, drums) would sound so massive. There’s a lot of doom and drone in those live cuts.

The third part of the DVD is titled “Earlier Days,” and features footage of the band on stage and elsewhere during their formative years. The band goofs off, records “Satori” for its Interpretations record, and travels across different European landscapes. Through the mini documentary, the band performs in Italy, The Netherlands, and Switzerland before returning home. This chapter of the DVD ends with the band performing pieces from Doomsdayer’s Holiday in Philadelphia. Although the sound from the earlier is always perfect, the ideas and the visuals come across clearly.

Acid Rain is, at this point, one of the most unique music DVDs I’ve ever watched. The combination of the live performance and its bookends — the beautiful music videos and the early European tour footage — create a stunning package that is deserving of high praise. Far too many band’s churn out such discs with live performances and little else, or old, proper music videos. The fact that so much of this package was developed by the band — by hand, even — brings with it a sense of deep sincerity that is often lacking in this genre. The fact that a band as wild and psychedelic as Grails is responsible for the first cool music DVD I’ve seen in ages makes it that much more refreshing. Many more bands could learn a lesson from Grails. What matters is not just a professionally filmed and presented live performance, but the dedication and thought put into the overall concept of the DVD. Kudos, Grails!

Acid Rain is currently available on DVD from Temporary Residence, or most video/music retailers. And if the guy who once commented to me, “I’m guessing this is the last record you’ll ever review for TRL,” is reading this: Ha Ha. I win. Fuck you.

GRAILS – DVD COMMERCIAL from The Fact Facer on Vimeo.

Grails – Predestination Blues

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