Various Artists

Burn to Shine, Vol. 1: Washington DC, 01.14.2004 Comp

(Trixie; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 20 April 2005

Ah, the high concept: how the mighty have fallen. A couple years back, Brendan Canty, Fugazi drummer extraordinaire, came up with this really cool idea of filming bands. And they would play in condemned houses. And they only get to play one song. And you don’t give them a crowd to react with. And then at the end you get to watch the house burn down (which is sweet!). And, man, let me tell you, is it not worth the $10.

In truth, the vast majority of concert DVDs are worthless attempts to get the real fans to shell out another $20 for a mediocre representation of the live show. There’s simply no way to capture the feel of being jammed into an audience, sweating your balls off for three hours, and putting up with the guy next to you screaming at the top of his lungs for the band to play your least favorite song off the shitty new record. Those are positives—really—and without that, there’s just no life to the affair. While I can’t argue with Burn to Shine from a price standpoint (Canty follows the Dischord music-for-$10 business model), it does make the mistake of pulling all the vivacity out of these songs. Without an audience, there’s practically nothing sustaining these performances.

Sure, Ian Svenonius spends all of his life playing the bizarre character he has worked out for himself and can pull it off well with no one there, but some of the younger bands look quite awkward. Q & Not U, who can put on a great live show, fall flat at the get-go with a terrible rendition of “X-Polynation.” Maybe the sound quality was just bad early on in the day, but it seems more that they are caught in “screech” mode. Likewise, Medications, Garland of Hours, and French Toast all look awkward and do little to set themselves apart.

Ted Leo, who seems to love leaving the Pharmacists at home for the afternoon, does his standard rendition of “Bleeding Powers” just the same way that anyone who has attended a Ted Leo concert in the last two years knows it. He sounds so much better with the full band, and since at this point I don’t think anyone is questioning his abilities as a guitarist, it may be time to accept the drummer and bassist as full-time partners. The aforementioned Svenonius leads Weird War through a spot-on “AK-47” and the Evens “Mount Pleasant Isn’t” is pulled off without a hitch, even if Amy Farina just looks pissed to be sitting in an abandoned house in D.C. in the middle of January. At least it ends with a gem: Bob Mould’s extraordinary acoustic rendition of Sugar’s “Hoover Dam.”

But that’s hardly enough. At the end of the day (and more importantly, at the end of that wicked sweet fire), there’s not much exciting going on here. As a grand concept, the whole thing rings a bit hollow, and in it’s current form I don’t have much hope for the rest of the series. If Canty switches it up on us—maybe let bands play a full set or make it into more of a house party—there could be some interesting results. Here’s to hoping.