Marah: Sooner Or Later in Spain

[14 November 2006]

By Stephen Haag

I’m not blowing anybody’s mind when I say that Marah is one of the best rock bands in America, am I? Their last two albums—2004’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky and last year’s If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry—are two of the truest, most heartfelt and rockingest records of this decade. Plus, they’re buddies with Springsteen, and are you gonna question the Boss’ choice of friends? The point is, Marah—guitarists/songwriters Dave and Serge Bielanko, guitarist Adam Garbinski, drummer Dave Peterson and bassist Kirk Henderson—is a damn fine rock band.

The natural corollary to that statement is that they put on a helluva live show. Anyone who has caught them on tour knows that they—clichés be damned—leave it all out on the stage. And now, thanks to the Marah: Sooner Or Later in Spain concert DVD, we’ve got the video to prove it to any doubters who aren’t hip to Marah and their all-out live shows.

The funny(ish) thing about Marah and this DVD is that one of America’s finest rock bands recorded their concert documentary in Mataro, Spain, back in November 2005 for a very, very well-behaved Spanish audience. Oh well… you play the cards you’re dealt, and American Marah fans will not be disappointed. Even if the crowd is mellow, the bands comes out with guns blazing on “It’s Only Money, Tyrone” (off Kids in Philly), and don’t let up for nearly two hours. What’s captured here is the full concert, stage band, mistakes and all. And the errors are the nitpicky variety: a monitor set too high keep Dave from ever getting “City of Dreams” on track; the audio and video are out of sync during an atmospheric take of “Demon of White Sadness”; and, in the only true complaint, whoever edited the footage felt compelled to overuse cheesy distracting video effect like split screen, picture-in-picture, etc. Remember the Video Toaster editing program? Yeah, it looks like that in places. (For those unfamiliar with Video Toaster, think early MTV editing.) It’s an exciting band—their three-guitar attack always looks cool—on a stage that looks like a bar. Just cut between a few camera angles and leave it at that. Bah.

Enough sour grapes, because the good stuff more than outweighs the less-good. There’s funny stage banter (Dave says that If You Didn’t Laugh was garnering eight-star reviews), and heartfelt confessions (Serge talks about air turbulence and mortality at the end of “For the Price of a Song” and about missing his wife before launching into “The Apartment”) and tons of great songs. Seriously, it’s an embarrassment of riches here, as the band hits every album (save their Christmas album) from their discography. If you’re looking for specifics, here’s one man’s opinions of the highlights: the extended jam on “Sooner or Later”; the doo-woppy “Pizzeria” segueing into the punky “Head On”; “Freedom Park” (which loses nothing despite the absence of “Shimmy-shimmy-coco-bop”); and their cover of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”, which Serge calls “the greatest song he ever heard in his life”. It’s no mystery why he would love that ode to life on tour, given how much fun the band is clearly having on stage (with each other, with themselves, with the audience) and how much passion they’re pouring out—Serge ends up on the ground at the end of the first encore, “Reservation Girl”, squeezing every last bit of soul out of his axe.

There’s also a few bonus performances on the disc—if you like Marah’s slower songs, be sure to check out “Long Hot Summer” and “Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft”, which were recorded live in Pittsburgh and Chicago, respectively. They’re solid, if unspectacular performances. Two other bonuses, though, are almost worth the cost of this set alone, and considering they’re not part of the concert proper, that’s really saying something. First up is the first-ever live performance of “Fat Boy”, where Dave begins by reading the song as a poem; with the switched-up phrasing, it’s a completely different piece of art. Even more awesome is Marah’s pair-up with writer Nick Hornby, from a performance in London. Hornby reads a very funny piece about how important the Faces were to him and his friends growing, and when he’s done, Marah launches into a fantastic version of the Faces’ “Debris”. Really, it’s a perfect fit—the Faces and Marah may be separated by one ocean and 30 years, but they both sing modest songs about real young mens’ lives. And in a world of artifice and boastfulness, it’s the rare truths that Marah captures—and are captured in this DVD—that make them one of America’s best bands.

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