October 31, 2005

DVD Review: Tub Ring "Optic & Sonics"

Chicago's Tub Ring is an underground phenomenon. They've been around for well over a decade, but it's only been within the past five years or so that they've really garnered any attention. It's understandable why they have such a devout following; their music is hard, but it's poppy; it's loud, but it's not overbearing; it's funny, but it's not stupid; it's weird, but it's quite enjoyable. They've released three excellent albums over the past five years, Drake Equation, Fermi Paradox and last year's masterpiece, Zoo Hypothesis. It's a blend of punk and funk and pop and experimental music that holds no quarter in any one genre. Their studio records channel the best part of Mr. Bungle, Naked City and Tripping Daisy, and their music's equally as engaging as all three of those bands. Live, they're an equally powerful band. There's no way the band can perfectly replicate the studio tricks found on their albums, so they compensate this reality with sheer power. Live, Tub Ring goes batshit insane, especially the relatively mild-mannered keyboard wizard Rob Kleiner. (Then again, their albums don't come close to capturing the band's frantic live intensity, so ultimately it's a fair trade-off.)

For those who have never seen Tub Ring, Optics & Sonics compensates nicely. It's a healthy collection of live videos, TV appearances, tour diaries, song videos. Some of the videos are downright hilarious, such as their appearance on Chic-A-Go-Go, where they appear dressed as aliens whilst lip-synching to "No More Refills," or when they appeared as crash-test dummies in "Faster." The DVD also includes a rather interesting short documentary of the band's career, with some truly funny video of the band's early years, as well as fan interactions. The most interesting and candid portion of the DVD, though, is the film diary of their tour with Mindless Self Indulgence. While a good portion of this diary consists of live recordings, also included are several minutes of the band travelling in the van, talking about their future. Would the band be willing to compromise a portion of their artistic integrity in favor of financial gain? Would finanacial gain necessarily be a problem if it meant the band could live on? The conversations are interesting, and it's really fascinating to see them talk about such manners as touring and label deals.

As a special bonus, Tub Ring's also included a CD of b-sides and outtakes. Whereas the band's studio albums are well-produced, well-programmed collections that ebb and flow with natural ease, this compilation is merely OK, and feels like what it is: a b-sides collection. Sure, there are some really good songs here, such as the cover of Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time," the loud, raucious "2Minus3" or the wonderfully swining "Farnsworth Road," but much of the material definitely feels lesser, and the album lacks the cohesiveness of their regular records. Though interesting on a collector's level, it's not the best Tub Ring album available.

Still, with Tub Ring taking backseat to two new projects, Super 8-Bit Brothers and 3,2,1 Activate!, Optics & Sonics might be the closest some might get to experiencing a live Tub Ring show. But all in all, it's a great reminder as to why some people simply fawn over Tub Ring. Plus, it's just a hell of a fun video, period. A fun collection from one of today's better bands.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.tubring.com
Label Website: http://www.undergroundinc.com

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