Despite being a music fanatic, I usually can't work up much enthusiasm for performance DVDs. Which may be why it took me a while to get around to "From the Basement," a collection of live workouts by some of the leading lights of modern rock. But the surprising intimacy and ferocity showcased in this British comp mark it as a standout. Celebrated producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) masterminded the project (first as a series of downloads for sale, then as a TV show) and supervised the recordings; his attention to detail paid off.
"Basement" is a killer combination of studio clarity and live catharsis. There's no host, no audience, no chatter, no self-important hype; the artists just play — with consistent energy and occasional flashes of inspiration. I was particularly impressed by The White Stripes, who storm through a mad medley of their own "Blue Orchid" and (audaciously enough) Captain Beefheart's "Party of Special Things to Do."
And there's plenty more to enjoy, including a typically loony pair of songs by Beck, two intense numbers by Radiohead (and two by frontman Thom Yorke), a great mini-set by Eels, a riveting appearance by PJ Harvey, a delicate interval with Damien Rice, a bit of cracked melodicism from The Shins and a fantastic fun-with-loops turn by one-man band/Super Collider cofounder Jamie Lidell, as well as visits from Sonic Youth, Jarvis Cocker and Super Furry Animals, among others. That'll teach me to let those music DVDs languish.
Speaking of retrieving great music from the basement, power-pop fans will be heartened to learn that the 1981 debut by Milwaukee's The Wigs, File Under: Pop Vocal, has at last been issued on CD. This vigorous set of fast 'n' catchy tunes was the trio's sole release; though they got some notice for their multiple musical contributions to the '86 comedy flick "My Chauffeur," their career was ground in the unwieldy gears of the music biz. In the intervening years, FUPV has become a highly sought-after rarity, fetching as much as $400 in online auctions.
It's easy to see why pop purists — especially devotees of the "skinny tie" variety — had to have it; the songs offered up by Marty Ross, Jim Cushinery and Bobby Tews are fleet and hugely infectious, played with grit, wit and spark. And in addition to keenly wrought originals like "I Can See It Now," "Tell It All" and "Popular Girl," The Wigs bust out my favorite rendition yet of the oft-covered '60s chestnut "Mony Mony." The CD version, moreover, boasts two superb tunes that didn't make the original release, "Hard Candy" and "180 Degrees"; compiling the new disc also enabled the band to correct some mixing and other technical choices that had irked them for 27 years.
Judging by YouTube clips of The Wigs' recent hometown reunion gigs, they rock as sublimely as ever. What's more, they're now preparing a long-awaited "My Chauffeur" soundtrack album. File under: happy endings.