Poster Children: Zero Stars: A DVD Tour Diary

[29 April 2002]

By Brad Cohan

Within the last several years, the pretense of the low budget, independent cinematic hybrid, an integral element of the superinformationhighway for cutting edge, experimental art, has for the most part, spiraled into a contrived decline both in the music-related and feature film scope. While indie film prospered throughout the first half of the ‘90s, delving into clever, ironic dialogue (read: arty, pretentious) punctuated by lo-fi, idiosyncratic cinematography, the parallels between this edgy, anti-mainstream cinema and underground rock was indeed apparent as the two intertwined.

Beginning as early as the mid-‘80s when a pre-sellout R.E.M. offered their collection of mediations artfully dressed as videos (R.E.M. Succumbs) to Goo, Sonic Youth’s homegrown noise-rock “video-for-every-song” opus, to Fugazi’s epic chronicle Instrument, this coupling of music and film revealed a singular blueprint for a product the mersh corporate giants at MTV would thankfully deem too “arty” to air. The material is unquestionably lacking in the all-important “T & A” department.

While Champaign, Illinois’ long-running punk-popsters Poster Children rank considerably lower on the pedestal than the aforementioned bands (save R.E.M. since 1987), they may in fact be downright irrelevant at this point in time, as their best moment occurred a lifetime ago with their 1991 song “If You See Kay”. One cannot deny Poster Children’s longevity and tenacious belief in the post-punk DIY ethic. Since its inception in 1987, the Children, through “eight or nine records” according to singer/guitarist Rick Valentin, have traveled the independent label route. They plunged into the dangerous waters of the major label conglomerate only to make their return to the indie terrain.

Notwithstanding their stint on the Reprise/Warner imprint, the resistance to the legacy of sell-outs has been a virtue for Poster Children, and the aptly titled Zero Stars: A DVD Tour Diary is true testament to their perseverance in an underground rock, where, for the past 15 years they’ve been witness to an abyss of “fill-in-the-blank- punk” pockets concocted by journalists. Not only do Poster Children expose their penchant towards their patented herky-jerk anthemic synergy through the sweaty live performances shown on Zero Stars, but the tour escapades of life on the road are a humor-charged, darkly comedic trajectory, conjuring images of early ‘90s indie film-fare like Richard Linklater’s Slacker.

Fittingly, Poster Children kick off the Tour Diary with their anti-rock star punk-rock melodica rave-up “Zero Stars”, while kitschy visuals are provided in the form of still-shots of our sweat-soaked heroes playing their hearts out on their respective instruments to a pogo-enthusiastic crowd. But while tense and brittle pop-punk snapshots such as the outstanding “6x6”, “Dynamite Chair” and “If You See Kay” prove to be exhilarating, it is the scenes of the exciting (and not so exciting) life of a band on tour that showcase their off-beat sensibilities and offer unexpectedly funny interludes.

Among Zero Stars’ high-jinx highlights are encounters with clowns driving cars, unruly pool players, a bargaining t-shirt buying dope, dining at the Food Court, drummer Howie Kantoff’s underwear questionnaire, a hilarious interview with an unprepared, obnoxious ‘zine writer, and the perils of finding a place to crash following a concert. Also, bassist Rose Marshack is outed as having the most hearty appetite of the bands four members.

Conceived in retrospect to Rose’s tour diaries throughout the years, Zero Stars not only effortlessly eclipses that of the standard, blase issue of the “greatest hits” or “live” album, it also offers a melding of a visual/musical alternative that surpasses the majority of the mindless drivel playing in movie houses today. Admittedly, Poster Children has been M.I.A. on my turntable and in live settings since I last saw them play 10 years ago at CBGBs with the defunct bands Polvo and Six Finger Satellite. But now Zero Stars: A DVD Tour Diary has no doubt reestablished my faith in Poster Children. It should do the same for you.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/posterchildren-zero/