Thursday, October 1, 2009

It Might Get Loud: Stairway to guitar heaven

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 10:26 AM


(The documentary It Might Get Loud opens in Charlotte tomorrow. Following is Curt Holman’s review from the Atlanta Creative Loafing.)

Having taken on global warming with Al Gore in the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim teams with three guitar heroes to support global loudening in his latest documentary.

It Might Get Loud profiles the electric guitar superstars of three generations: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, the Edge (aka David Howell Evans) of U2, and Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs. Partly, the film depicts the trio’s “summit meeting” — half jam session, half bull session — in a cavernous studio, but mostly It Might Get Loud uses interviews and vintage clips to trace each guitarist’s musical career and six-string aesthetic.

The guitarists each formed their respective bands in defiance of the musical excesses of their formative years. Intriguingly, It Might Get Loud hints that some of the musicians don’t approve of their elder’s approaches. The Edge recalls weeping, not laughing, when he saw This Is Spinal Tap as the embodiment of the worst rock trends of the day, like endless, pretentious solos — the very flourishes that Led Zeppelin helped popularize. The Edge and his guitar tech discuss his fascination with technological effects such as delay, and then we see White decrying “ease of use” and the reliance on digital gimmicks. The film opens with White demonstrating his rootsy, DIY approach by hammering together a primitive, one-string guitar out of a two-by-four, a glass Coke bottle and a length of wire.

White’s assertions of musical authenticity aren’t entirely convincing: His songs' raw, noisy effects seem no less artificial than the Edge’s highly produced ones. White seems the most image-conscious, costumed in an old-timey bluesman’s porkie hat and bowtie, while his young son wears an identical outfit. He acknowledges that the image-building of the White Stripes — the memorable color scheme and brother-sister shtick — was partly meant to distract from the fact that they were young white people playing the blues.

The Edge comes across as the most likeably down to earth. In one charming moment, he reveals that one riff, with all the sonic frills removed, turns out to be hilariously simple, almost childish. Page proves avuncular and approachable, and at one point delightedly plays air guitar to Link Wray’s “Rumble” on vinyl. If he’s a bit more reserved than the others, it seems to reflect a generational difference rather than a need to cultivate the mystique of a rock star.

Together, the three seem competitive but able to enjoy each other’s company. It’s fun hearing them talk shop about first guitars and favorite chords. Playing U2’s “I Will Follow,” Page ribbingly asks the Edge, “You sure about that C?” It Might Get Loud culminates with a rousing cover of a classic from the Band, but the summit otherwise doesn’t have quite the excitement and chemistry Guggenheim probably expected. Perhaps the guitarists needed a bigger audience, or more back-up musicians. Otherwise, It Might Get Loud offers a fresh listen to a few familiar rock acts and gives some guitar players an overdue chance to take the mic from the lead singers.

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