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Music DVD Reviews: The Sugarcubes – The DVD and Live Zabor

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I’ve underestimated the Sugarcubes. Yeah, they were the first Icelandic band to make it big, and yeah, they were a little weird, but they were more than just a cheap novelty: they were quirky and alternative without sacrificing any relevance, and they offered something new on a late ’80s music scene which had grown stale under the weight of cheap synthesizers, silly guitar licks and lame-ass vocals. As a band they were incredibly tight, and as personalities they were immediately endearing; enough to be embraced by the transcontinental college rock/underground community who popularized them.

So naturally, they performed quite a few concerts in the wake of their fame, and released interesting music videos to compliment their almost excessive amount of singles. Those two aspects of this underrated band are the focus of The DVD and Live Zabor — both reissues of video releases from the early ’90s which originally came out on One Little Indian, the label the Sugarcubes and Bjork launched to fame – and for the most part, they’re pretty fucking sweet.

The DVD contains all of the Sugarcubes’ videos; it’s pretty much a straight reissue of the original VHS version, with three extra promos from the group’s last LP appended as bonus features. And while that’s a little counterintuitive in this reviewer’s eyes (couldn’t they have just combined it so you can skip around to everything on a whim?), at least we can finally have all the videos collected in one place, and that makes it totally worth it. The Sugarcubes’ music videos are as odd as their music and the members of the band themselves: kind of a conflation of late ’80s weirdness and early ’90s kitsch, their eccentricity has to be watched to really be understood. And the further the ‘Cubes go along, the stranger it gets. Who can resist the temptation of tracking Bjork’s haircuts through the years? Watch for her embarrassing little boy cut!

There’s a downside to all the camp appeal, however. Having barely remembered the ’80s, I suppose I have no right to judge, but silly video processing must’ve been in vogue at the time; you can hardly watch one of these videos without coming across some black and white filtering or pictures bouncing around the sides of the screen. Hey, it must’ve been bitchin’ 20 years ago, but now it’s the only concrete thing that dates these videos. All in all, however, The DVD is an intriguing set.

Live Zabor is pretty nice, too, albeit with an unfortunately screwed-up track listing. My case bears mention of a bonus track that doesn’t exist, and one of the chapters contains two segments instead of one, thus pushing the rest of the listing off-kilter and leaving the DVD with a data-less twentieth chapter. Hopefully Rhino will fix this in a future pressing. Furthermore, the second Sugarcubes DVD has footage from not one but three different concerts, edited together all willy-nilly in a confusing fashion. I can’t complain about how it starts, though: after a bizarre interview session with Einar Orn, the ‘Cubes kick off with a version of “Planet,” in my opinion one of their best songs (written in their prime, before the release of second LP Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!). Live Zabor‘s “Planet” is probably better than the studio version, and certainly a catchy way to launch the concert video.

Also on the positive side, the Sugarcubes’ live DVD features brief semi-interviews that are almost worth the disc’s price tag alone. Just wait until you see drummer Siggi break into a Southern accent and talk about radiation in the Bible Belt being part of God’s holy plan for the region. Yep, it’s as weird as it sounds, and these interludes complement the concert footage superbly. Not only that, the mix is really nice. Everything is crisp and audible (except for the synthesizer, which is a little low in the mix for the set that starts off the DVD), almost album quality.

As mentioned before, however, the editing is a little more questionable. While I don’t doubt the good intentions of the folks at One Little Indian, their abrupt piecing together of the three concerts represented on this DVD is a little disconcerting. Halfway through the disc we hear Einar Orn say good night, but instead of the video ending, we’re cut into another concert that’s suddenly not as good: the image quality decreases, the singing is in Icelandic and the band isn’t as focused. Then it’s back to the previous concert. All this jumping around is a little strange, obviously, and it really underlines the gap between the Sugarcubes in their prime and the sort of haziness soon after. But even if these later shows pale in comparison, they’re still fun, and they’re still good enough for release. Plus, “Luftgitar” is just a badass song to end the DVD with.

To be honest, a few minor complaints are really all I can level against these discs. It’s nice to have both videos available again, and the transfers are of good quality, certainly DVD-worthy. All in all, The DVD and Live Zabor are a must for Sugarcubes fans, Bjork fans, or just folks who like to rock out like it’s Iceland circa 1989. And really, between those three categories, is there anybody left?

Reviewed by Jon Cameron

This review is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.

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  • mia

    Hi, great review!
    Which DVD would you recommend over the other if getting just one of them?