Unless you were around for Iron Butterfly’s big boom in 1968, you might remember this band best as the composers of that song the organ player plays for 17 minutes in that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart sells his soul. Yes, this is how I knew them for much of my youth, and I thought of them best then too.
This DVD documents a 1997 concert of Iron Butterfly, and it did little to sway my fond memories of what was a very good Simpsons episode that was. My apologies…I shall leave that Fox program (not to be mentioned again) and focus on the band that is most famous for the 17 minute plus psychedelic adventure that is In A Gadda Da Vida.
The concert is a nice enough reminder of how this band really did write some great riffs and helped to play a part in the groundwork for heavy metal band’s (particularly stoner or doom metal bands) to come. Of course, the term “heavy metal” is often attached to this band mainly because their debut album was entitled “Heavy,” but they truly did have some chunky riffs that any muscle-bound, bearded badasss would love to compose on his Les Paul.
The film is a concert without any documentary portion (details on that under Special Features). The show is primarily made up of footage of the band playing a mid-sized venue in Europe, but also attempts to create some music video vibes by splicing in some stock footage and playing with slow-motion, colour alteration, and other low-budget tricks with the hopes of delivering some of that psychedelic groove that the music dictates. The result is not very satisfying. Perhaps the makers of this concert film had spent too much time watching and hoping to replicate Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder, or another similar concert movie.
All in all, I’m sure many viewers will simply be waiting for (or skipping to) the big finish of In A Gadda Da Vidda, presented here in it’s original epic size, complete with 2 minute drum solo.
Shown in Widescreen 1.78:1 ratio. The quality is quite sad. The grainy visuals are hidden largely by the many light effects of the actual stage show, but are very much apparent everywhere else. But, as the rest of my review will establish, this DVD makes a better soundtrack than film, and the video was clearly the least pressing priority of the makers.
Dolby Digital 2.0. For a what is mainly a concert, this is quite disappointing. The bottom end is faded, almost eliminating the sounds of some very solid bass playing by Lee Dorman at times, and only allowing for some decent tom-tom bouncing by drummer Ron Bushy at others. The insturments are meant to blend together, so some of the sound mix’s flaws become hidden, but much could have been saved if they made the effort to go for a big surround sound effect. The music is evidence enough that something great could have come out of this. Had this been a documentary, more weight would have been placed on the video quality, but a concert means it’s all about the audio. A huge opportunity missed to really highlight something that should sound amazing.
Bonus Interview: This is an acoustic performance by keyboardist (who is playing a guitar here mind you) Doug Ingle, as well as interview footage of the original members of the band along with the frontman for the band Yes, who opened for Iron Butterfly during this particular European tour in 1997. It has the same low quality picture and sound of everything else (both are worse here actually), and it is edited together very sloppily. Often a word will be cut-off and end up sounding like an erroneous grunt as the next shot begins. It appears in full frame, as opposed to the main feature.
Granted, it is quite long and there are some interesting tidbits included, so it is worth exploring if you found the entire experience worthwhile but hardly counts as the “Documentary” that the title of the DVD insists is here.
Ultimately, the low quality of the editing and footage will make one realize that they could have a better time listening to the music with their back turned to the screen (something I tested out and can defend as successful in creating a groovy enough experience without the need of viewing amateur video).
Points to the band for sounding sharp (as best I could hear) and for putting on a good show. It’s just a shame it could not have been reproduced better. The filmmakers should have put a lot more care into their work.