[2 January 2005]
When a band really succeeds live, they have the power to take the audience on a trip. Whether you’re front row or 100 yards away, the sonic flood carries you far from the stank bar or atmospherically challenged hockey arena you’re standing in. And it’s this fundamental capacity to transcend that is too often scorched by treacherous concert DVDs. Instead of luring the home audience into unfettered immersion, the producers of these videos tend to spotlight their own performances. Snow Patrol’s new release, Live at Somerset House, August 8th 2004 Mums & Dads of the world be patient with your children, suffers horribly from this daft tendency.
Filmmakers and record executives have totally missed the point if they think music fans are shelling out upwards of $30 to check out some rad editing techniques. “Wowie, that stop motion technique was real boss”, exclaims Sally Snow Patrol. The majority of Live at Somerset House suffocates under this misguided practice, where the music isn’t allowed to breathe amidst the frantic cuts and splices. It’s understandable that the filmmakers might have been concerned about Snow Patrol’s lackluster stage show, or perhaps their arguably stale sound, but this a Snow Patrol concert, and there’s no changing that. The cinematic trickery of George Lucas and Jean-Luc Godard combined could not transform a poor performance from a boring band. And Snow Patrol was actually half-decent on this sweaty night in London.
The show was staged in the impressive settings at Somerset House cultural centre, where grand royal buildings loom in the background. This backdrop hardly serves any real purpose, as more screen time is devoted to a few of the four thousand fans, clapping and shouting their way through anthems like “Chocolate” and “Run”. Exemplifying another forbidding convention of the concert DVD, Live at Somerset House offers superfluous close-ups and cutaways of these clamorous Brits instead of amplifying the drama of Snow Patrol’s dynamics. Ahhhh, the hands clapping overhead shot… ooohh, the person on fellow person’s shoulders moment. It’s all here friends. We are even rewarded with two distinctly bizarre crowd shots; first, an extended look at some shock treatment patient as he chews gum blissfully during “Ways & Means”, second, a bored young lass checking her messages on her cellular near the show’s finale. Very captivating picture making—hey, what are those guys doing with those guitars over there?
If my easy disaffection hasn’t already given it away, I’m not exactly a Snow Patrol aficionado. After hearing the Belfast boys’ hit “Run”, I wrote them off as another disciple to the Coldplay, bigger is softer school of anaesthetized rockery. This concert largely supports this classification, but that doesn’t mean Snow Patrol is total shite (nor should it imply that “Run” didn’t inspire me to fight off a gang of loveless ogres). Frontman Gary Lightbody emits a charming warble and the exultant stomping of his band’s live performance is positively genial. Most of the songs here are cuts from their third full length, Final Straw, with a few oldies mixed in for the devotees. Lightbody even includes “You Are My Joy” by the Reindeer Section, the supergroup he spearheads in his spare time.
For the most part the band is tight enough and adequately passionate, despite noxiously tinny guitar work and some dreadfully bland drums. For the tail end of the show, Snow Patrol smartly enlists the strings of the Millenia Ensemble, who provide new texture to the proceedings. Adding strings to the quiet-loud-quiet-louder formula isn’t exactly a revelation, but it works nonetheless.
As far as the extras go, this release includes the standard fare. There’s the infamous Japanese tour video, replete with impromptu dance parties, toy shopping, and snippets of festival gigs. Also included is the US Tour Diary, which turns its eye more toward record store performances and the inescapable homoeroticism that American life on the road provokes (hopefully the public fountain sequence doesn’t become the next standard for the music DVD package). Most interesting of the mini-docs that accompany the live show is the 4Play “Home” short, which sets the band’s return home to Northern Ireland to songs from Final Straw. Finally, you can also watch videos for “Chocolate” and “Spitting Games”, as well as the meaninglessly beautiful promo for “Run”, a definitive work for the starkly compelling music video annals. Think Coldplay’s “Yellow”, but with flares blazing with brilliant colour. Maybe Snow Patrol was trying to compensate for the inexplicable absence of raised lighters at the Somerset show.