These days, DVDs have become a staple in popular music, as every act now puts them together on a regular basis, and while many music DVDs are little more than hastily-assembled mishmashes intended to both appease their fans in between albums and to cash in on the enormous popularity of the format, every once in a while, you get a music DVD that's actually well made and quite enjoyable. Changes, Godsmack's new concert film/documentary, is one of those pleasant surprises. Filmed by the duo of Daniel E. Catullo III and Andrew MacNaughtan, the team responsible for Rush's outstanding concert DVD Rush in Rio, Changes offers Godsmack fans glimpses of the band's life on the road, while at the same time, serving up plenty of excellent concert footage.
People can bash Godsmack all they want, and believe me, it's easy for a music critic to lazily dismiss the band's no-frills blend of metal, grunge, and melodic hard rock, but with each album they release, it's getting more and more difficult to ignore the fact that the Boston band has slowly, steadily become a force in mainstream rock music. With three platinum full length albums and one gold EP under their belts, seven million copies sold in five years, and no fewer than eleven top ten songs on rock radio (breaking Metallica's record of ten), you simply cannot deny the fact that Godsmack have done a great job building a loyal following throughout North America, something their extended run as Metallica's opening act has continued to do.
Presented as a 105-minute feature, Changes alternates between documentary footage and concert clips, and although Catullo and MacNaughtan keep things lively, ensuring there's not a moment where the film lags, the interview footage, while mildly interesting, is far from enlightening. You get the usual interview cliches, such as where each band member talks about the camaraderie they feel with their bandmates, how they love the direction their music is going, et cetera, et cetera. Although viewers are offered little more than a surface glimpse of the band, with no real revelations by any member, still, their friendly demeanor, laid-back attitude, and most importantly, their maturity as artists (they describe what it's like being considerably older than many of their peers) make these guys rather likeable.
It's the concert footage, however, that makes this DVD. Filmed before a packed arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the band rip through 12 songs from their highly popular albums, highlights being "Awake", "Faceless", "Keep Away", "Voodoo", and "I Stand Alone". Lead singer/primary songwriter Sully Erna exudes the same charisma onstage that you see in the interview clips, and while he's not the flashiest frontman in rock, he's one of those guys fans can rally behind instantly, with the ability to engage a large crowd easily. Vocally, he's in fine form, his lower-register howls resembling a cross between the late Layne Staley and Metallica's James Hetfield. The primary reason behind the band's strong live presence, though, is drummer Shannon Larkin. Truly one of the most unique drummers in hard rock, he's a guy you can't take your eyes off of, delivering powerful beats with a combination of technical prowess and flash, possessing a visual style that owes a lot to veteran pounder Tommy Aldridge. The DVD's best moment involves both Erna and Larkin, as "Batalla de los Tambores" is an extended dual drum solo, with Erna and Larkin duking it out from behind separate drum kits. The eight minute segment is great fun, as the performance is interspersed with little tributes to the likes of Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith, and in addition, shows just how skilled a percussionist Erna is, too.
If there's one major complaint, it's that the concert isn't presented in a full, uncut version, with the documentary as a separate feature on the DVD, but thankfully, all 13 tracks can be viewed separately, including both "Voodoo" and "Whatever", which are both shown in edited form on the feature film. Mixed in Circle Surround 5.1, enabling those without Dolby Digital receivers to enjoy the five channel mix, the live footage sounds fantastic (especially the drum battle), and the DVD's enhanced 16 x 9 picture only adds to the high quality of the disc. Much like Godsmack's music, the reasonably-priced Changes, though not groundbreaking by any stretch, is harmless fun, and while fans of the band will be very pleased with the finished product, some cynics might realize that this band isn't quite as bad as they might think.