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Non-Prog DVD/Video Reviews

Flipper

Live Targetvideo77 1980-81 DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

Flipper is one of the more influential West Coast punk/noise bands of the second punk wave.  While other bands were ratcheting up the speed and volume, creating some of the roots of hardcore, Flipper was slowing things down, sometimes to a crawl.  Adding in elements of noise and chaos, their shows could often de-evolve into shambolic affairs, half the audience up on stage screaming along with them, the rest thrashing about while some wondered what the hell was going on.

Live Targetvideo77 1980-81, their DVD release on MVD Visual, captures two full concerts.  The first half of the program is taken from a small headlining show at Berkeley Square in Berkeley CA on 28 July 1980, while the second half was filmed at a show opening for Throbbing Gristle on 29 May 1981 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

I suppose the first word of warning for viewers is this: if you are expecting pristine video and audio quality, you should put the DVD right down and walk away.  This is a rough and ready affair if ever there was one, and I think in some ways it’s appropriate that it is.  The Berkeley performance is filmed on a single handheld camcorder, and while the video is fairly clear, viewers who suffer motion sickness might be well advised to stock up on Damamine before hitting play.  Kezar is a multi-cam shoot, and video quality seems smoother…perhaps this performance was shot partially from a tripod?  Sound quality in both cases is slightly overdriven and fuzzy, but perhaps appropriate for the material contained within.

There are times, especially on “Low Rider” (the opening track on the Berkeley performance) that I detect a touch of Inner City Unit in the band’s sound.  That may well be because of the punky sound and addition of saxophone, and it evaporates as quickly as it appears.  Overall, listening to Flipper is both exhilarating and difficult.  The shows are cathartic, with enough angst and anger oozing out that it’s possible it may actually leave the screen.  That said, at best Flipper live is atonal and difficult to listen to…at worst, they prove the theory that punk is music made by people who can’t play instruments.  On “One By One” from the Kezar show, for example, bassist Will Shatter starts thrashing on all four strings on his bass, all open, creating a cacophonous sound that is neither pleasing nor easy to listen to.  Yet it fits the band’s "focused sloppiness" ethos to a T.

A few bonus features fill out the package.  The primary one is a filmed video of the band’s track “Sex Bomb,” filmed live on Channel 25 in San Francisco on 26 January 1983.  Video and sound quality are significantly better….this is a controlled environment, such as it is, and as a result the band almost sounds together as a whole.  The double exposure effect used for this video is a bit disconcerting, but one gets used to it fairly quickly.  As for the song it is aggressive, bass driven, almost monolithic.  This is a powerful and welcome performance. 

The only other bonus features are a pair of text biographies, one on Flipper, one on Target Video.  Fairly dry in both cases, I think one might find the band’s biography on Wikipedia as interesting a read.

Flipper to this day is considered a legendary band, and their influence continues to be felt throughout many of today’s more raucous punk bands.  While I don’t think Live Targetvideo77 1980-81 is a perfect video document of the band at their height, it comes as close as one could without subverting the punk ethos the band held true to.  For a group that espoused "focused sloppiness" and "ugly beauty" this video is perhaps the most appropriate document.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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