! = recommended
* = all-ages
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As a photographer, especially in the context of a live performance, I perpetually want to capture that stellar snapshot - that one moment to show the world what the night with a particular band meant, and how it all felt. Some nights it's an angle of a guitar neck, some nights a fan mid-swoon or a singer backlit by a halo from a can light... something that makes us able to feel the very dirt of the stage under our fingertips, and to hear the notes ringing out through the venue. Photographs, while limited in their two-dimensional capacity, give us the power and ability to share that, at least on some levels. It lets us pass around a thing to each other, and go, "Here. Here it is. This is the bliss we all experienced. Look. It was so delicious."
From time to time people come along, and they do that thing just right. And this time, it's courtesy of Adam Pranica and everyone over at Dorsia Films. This very slice of deliciousness - a sold-out show, a perfect night in Seattle, the reason we live here - has been captured both flawlessly and organically in The Long Winters: Live at the Showbox. Filmed on an April night back in 2007 as part of Through With Love (the Long Winters documentary that's currently in process by the same folks), Live at the Showbox translates all that bliss to us in a beautiful, finely-tuned package.
This limited release DVD is everything that's right, real, gritty, messy, sweaty, and amazing about a live show - specifically, a live Long Winters show - in a band's hometown. The lights of the Showbox marquee on the interior of the perfectly sparse packaging basically bleed into the opening scene, as you go from the dark sidewalk outside the venue to the shine of the front row. There's a palpable joy in the song and stature of the band as they begin to serenade the crowd - singing to us, to Seattle - the most fitting opening lines, lines like "Can you wait? Can you stand it?" and "You set us both on fire."
Fans and casual listeners alike will appreciate the thoughtful framing, ranging from singular close-ups to full-stage shots to mid-floor, side-stage and back again. There's even real-time flare from the can lights in the lenses. And the sound - The Sound - whether it's huge guitars or clear, quiet ballads; regardless of instrument or microphone: this film has sound quality that can't be beat (and had us stopping to rig up our stereo speakers one song into the set because anything less would have been an injustice). There's so many perfect little moments, cover tunes, kazoos, a horn section... There's even a few guest appearances - most notably by Ben Gibbard, where the split-screen view we've had thus far of Nabil Ayers and John Roderick pays off in a huge way, and the now infamous stick-dropping scene from the preview is captured in a way you'd swear had been choreographed. It's that good.
Even as someone who's not acquainted with the Long Winters, you'll do yourself a favor to pick this DVD up, not only for the spectacular songwriting and performance that the rest of us know this band consistently delivers, but also for a snapshot into a truly stellar night in our sparkling city. If you are a fan, and are debating whether to add this to your library, please allow me just a moment here to gush: you guys, seriously. What a ____ing good show this is! I danced in my living room, I swooned briefly, I turned it up so loud that my neighbors (and their neighbors) could hear every guitar wank and every extended adjective. The lead into "Sky Is Open" practially had me removing various undergarments and throwing them at the screen (it's true, that's a direct quote from my notes) and "Unsalted Butter" might just do you in permanently. By the time the set got around to the encore - a Chicago song!!! - forget about it. I was actually clapping, sitting on the floor of my apartment, with total unabashed glee.
Ahem. To wit, here's the set list:
Scared Straight / Fire Island, AK / Stupid / Scent of Lime / Rich Wife / Unsalted Butter / Sky is Open / Clouds / Seven / Cinnamon / Car Parts / Honest / Blue Diamonds / Fresh Emotion / Teaspoon / Departure / The Commander Thinks Aloud / New Girl / Feeling Stronger Everyday
As if all of this weren't enough, there's a great commentary track, as well as a trailer for the DVD, and a featurette for Through With Love. And again, with the thoughtful design - you can even configure the high quality sound to your specific settings, for a fully customized listening experience.
In short, and in closing: all the stars, all the thumbs, all the affirmative review standards ensue. Pick it up soon, as previously mentioned, because this pressing is limited, and you're going to want to say you had it when. The Long Winters: Live at the Showbox will be hitting record stores next Tuesday, December 9th, and of course will be available for ordering through Barsuk. And as is customary, here's all the gratuitous additional linkage: you can keep tabs on the progress of the Long Winters documentary here, and you can hear John Roderick talking with Cheryl Waters on KEXP's Midday show next Tuesday (the same day as the Live at the Showbox release) here. Don't forget about this show coming up at the Tractor next Saturday, and of course, all things Long Winters can be found here, here, here, and here.
See you out at the shows, where I'll be in the front row trying to do the bands I love one-tenth the justice that's been done in this film. The ground will, in fact, be proud just to hold these people up.