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"Urgh! A Music War" Review

The seminal punk/New Wave concert film Urgh! A Music War has attained near mythic status because for decades, it's been almost totally unavailable for viewing and was never officially released on video. Bootlegs cobbled together from various tapes of the various versions can be had, but until recently, when a nearly-complete DVD was issued by Warner Bros. Warner Archives imprint, it was more the stuff of legend.

Collecting three dozen raw live performances filmed in 1980 in New York, LA, London and France, the line-up of Urgh! and be broken down into acts everyone knows (e.g. The Go-Go's, The Police, Devo, Oingo Boingo, Joan Jett); acts most people have at least heard of, if not actually heard (e.g. XTC, The Cramps, Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Gang of Four); and then the acts that 99.44% of the general public have never even heard of like Athletico Spizz 80, John Otway, and Invisible Sex, whose only performance ever (if Wikipedia can be believed) is captured in the film. One after another they come in a tidal wave of music.

I think Urgh! will probably be most interesting to aging Gen Xers looking to reconnect with their high school years when bell-bottomed classic rock was supplanted by spikier hair and music to match. The sheer number and variety of performances starts to work against it after a while. Standout bits like Devo's surprisingly raucous "Uncontrollable Urge" (see below) or the pre-Kathy Valentine Go-Go's (with a really tubby Belinda Carlisle) "We Got The Beat" are shoulder to shoulder with weird artsy crap like Pere Ubu, but like Michigan weather, if you don't like something, give it a few minutes and it'll change.

The screening I saw had something weird going on with the sound leaving half the acts with buried vocals. I can't believe it was mixed improperly, so it's probably a safe bet to pick it up. While there are rumors of even more material in the vaults, the same music licensing and rights issues that have kept it off the market all this time will likely preclude anything better.

Score: 8/10. Buy it.


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