Noise Pop: The Movie

Dennis Harvey March 30, 2006

Every spring SF’s Noise Pop fest brings in vanloads of indie-rock delectables from around the city, nation, and globe. But for those who prefer their sonic thrills locked ‘n’ loaded on permanent audiovisual media, there’s the Noise Pop Film Festival, which unspools concurrently with the multi-venue live band schedule at Valencia’s Artists’ Television Access. Unless your record collection somehow fossilized at the same time Bachman-Turner Overdrive did, there’s nothing here not to like.

First up on Thursday night is the back-to-the-future flash of 1979’s ultra-rare “The M-80 Project,” which shows you what tomorrow sounded like when the Me Decade was just toking out. Long hair and longer solos be gone: The mostly NYC-based acts recorded here, during the Walker Art Center’s two-day No/New Wave Fest, were all about being concise, angular, speedy, and weird.

Soon to be best known among them was none other than Devo, which sent many a Deadhead and Led Zep fan into epileptic seizures when they appeared on “Saturday Night Live” one year later. But let us not forget the equally color-coordinated funky astringencies of James Black and the Contortions, more-downtown-than-youse Judy Nylon, accompanied by a very young Alejandro Escovedo, English cabaret-popsters The Monochrome Set, Minneapolis’ own Suburbs — who were kinda like Oingo Boingo, only 98 percent less annoying — and my faves, the mighty mighty garage rockin’ Fleshtones. (Who are still at it, bless ‘em.) Yes, this is what art school students listened to back then — and photographed, on blur-inclined B&W “portapacks” that weighed a convenient half-ton. Ah, nothing brings back those memories like poor sound quality and low-res images.

Waves of primo emo will emanate from the ATA’s trembling screen during Friday’s unveiling of “Directions,” a “video album” of sorts, featuring interpretive clips for every song off Death Cab for Cutie’s recent major-label debut, “Plans.” True: Blondie did the same thing in 1980. But did Blondie have a soul? Did that soul ever bleed for you, you alone, at 3 a.m.? Did Blondie ever express exactly what this pain feels like? I think not.

Will Tucson be the next Seattle? Austin? Cleveland?!? The makers of “High & Dry: Where the Desert Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll” think so. They’ve rounded up some impressive musical evidence — residents like mariachi-rockin’ Calexico, its more avant-cowboy brother band Giant Sand, bloosy/boozy punk prankster Bob Log III, techno-goth heavies Machines of Loving Grace, and world-class saloon cutups The Supersuckers (last album title: “Motherf——-s Be Trippin’”)— to suggest that if you can see snow, rain, or the color green outside your window right now, you are in the wrong place.

Likewise dessicating for art are the rambunctious boys of our very own Heavenly States, who, on a whim last year decided to do something really unnecessary, difficult, and interesting: They toured Libya, where Western rawk has not roamed in the, oh, 35 years since Qadhafi seized power. He’s gone now, but is this North African nation ready to throw its Bics in the air? The band’s self-made documentary “Borderline” reveals all, and a long, strange trip it is.

On the 7th day, God might have rested; Noise Pop accordingly sinks down on both knees for “Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley.” Forever young, dead, and adored — just like dad — Buckley left behind a small discography but a massive tragic-hero/tortured-artist halo that this documentary only amplifies. For those of you who prefer never, ever to burst that Jeff-is-God bubble, fear not. Nyla Bialek Adams and Laurie Trombley