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Gabba, Gabba, Hey!

Music DVD Review: Ramones – It’s Alive 1974 – 1996

The only real question about this DVD is what took them so long. The Ramones new live concert document It's Alive 1974 – 1996 is in a word, awesome. What you get here is four solid hours of live, loud, fast Ramones. It honestly just doesn't get much better than this.

We're not talking just songs here. We're talking entire concerts. A whole bunch of them. Of course a typical Ramones show usually lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 or so minutes, so it's easy to be able to include a whole bunch of them on two discs. The thing about those 40 minute blasts of pure, adrenaline charged energy though is that everyone involved was usually left completely spent and exhausted by the end. I'm not just talking about the band here, but the audience as well.

I oughtta know. I saw the Ramones live something like 10 times, mostly during the '70s and early '80s.

The very first time I saw these wonders of nature was in a tiny ballroom at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle. What I remember most about the show was how absolutely, painfully loud it was. In a tiny room usually reserved for things like business meetings and wedding receptions, the Ramones made a louder racket than Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and The Who combined.

The bathrooms were also located outside the ballroom, so you had to leave through a set of double doors to either enter or exit the place. Upon returning from the facilities, when you tried to go back through those double doors, the sheer volume literally drove you backward.

It was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen.

So this DVD would be worth the price of admission for the inclusion of the complete 1977 New Years Eve concert at London's Rainbow alone. That concert was originally recorded for the import only double live It's Alive album (hence the title of this double DVD).

The Ramones are absolutely at the top of their game at this concert, ripping through 14 songs at breakneck speed at a time which clocks out at about half an hour before a rabid audience of London punkers (how much you wanna bet that Johnny and Sid were there that night?). The pace is non-stop with the only thing separating the songs being Dee Dee's trademark "1-2-3-4."

By about halfway through, Joey is already out of breath for "Pinhead," which also features the show's only high tech special effect, a giant sign which says "Gabba Gabba Hey." There are a few technical glitches here, as the audio and video seem out of synch at times. But these are easily overlooked because the show itself is so amazing. Maybe the video guy just couldn't keep up with the pace.

Anyway, this DVD would be worth it for the London show alone. But there is so much more here. Did I mention we're talking four hours worth of vintage live Ramones here?

Among the most interesting footage here is a very early show from 1974 at New York's punk rock nightclub CBGB's. The band basically sound like shit here, and haven't yet perfected their act. But it is still fascinating to watch. Here you see the four of them crowded together on a stage so small they can barely fit on it. They haven't yet adopted the matching leather jackets, and Joey looks for all the world like a young Howard Stern. In between songs, they argue about whether to do "Loudmouth" or "I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement," finally deciding on the latter.

Two years later at Max's Kansas City they don't sound much better, screwing up the start to "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" right out of the gate. But by the time they make it back to CBGB's for a 1976 show right before the album Rocket To Russia came out, they've totally perfected their act right down to the matching jeans and leather. The hometown crowd eats it up of course, greeting them like they were the biggest rock stars on earth. As I've already said, the 1977 London show which closes out disc one is about as close to perfection as it gets.

A lot of Ramones fans will probably tell you that the first four albums made up through 1978 represent the Ramones creative peak, and in truth that is probably a pretty fair assessment (although I personally think the Phil Spector produced End Of The Century is underrated). Much of the second disc concentrates on the period after those four records. What you see here is the Ramones gradually playing bigger and better places, including one show where they played before a couple hundred thousand people at San Bernadino, California's first US Festival in 1982 (where Joey's mike goes dead during "Gimme Shock Treatment").

Although none of the records the band made during the '80s and '90s really matched the power of classics like Leave Home and Rocket To Russia and they started going through a lot of different members (particularly at the drum kit), the footage in this DVD shows the band remained a formidable live act right up to the end. To the members' credit, they also never changed the basic Ramones formula of loud, fast, and uncompromising punk rock played at breakneck speed.

Most of the Ramones are of course now dead, and for that reason there is also a touch of sadness involved in watching this DVD. The band's influence on the future direction of rock and roll was absolutely undeniable — just ask Green Day. Fortunately, most of them made it far enough to see themselves vindicated as the true innovators and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees they eventually became. It's just too bad that they were never able to see that influence translate into commercial success. Radio didn't figure out what to do with the Ramones until nearly twenty years after the fact.

It's Alive 1974 – 1996 is the quintessential live concert document of the Ramones. It is essential for any Ramones fan. Hell, it's essential for any true rock and roll fan period. It's just amazing how long it took somebody to finally put this stuff out. This is an easy five star DVD.

Did I mention we're talking four hours of live Ramones here?

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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