Movie: As a reviewer, sometimes I get lucky and pick up related titles just slightly ahead of their release date. The idea is that the company benefits from the free publicity and the consumer can gets a heads up (of admittedly varying quality) of the contents of the DVD. I've been burned many times by false or at least misleading advertising but even if I completely disagree with the critical analysis of the content, I feel better knowing what is on the DVD outside of the listing on the DVD cover (some titles, like last month's release of The Flash, even have recalls for poorly mastered discs so knowing that ahead of time, even fans might want to hold off getting a title on the Tuesday it comes out). Well, this past week I was lucky for getting both Sugarcubes: The DVD, a collection of all their music videos, and the subject of this review, The Sugarcubes: Live Zabor, a collection of concert footage and interviews of the band that fans will feel compelled to pick up for their collection.
To recap my thoughts about the Sugarcubes:
The band was almost an experimental formation considering how the lead players had been bouncing around throughout the 1980's in a variety of small groups in native Iceland. For the purposes of this review, I'll name them all, starting with lead singer Bjork Gundmundsdottir, (the most famous in terms of going solo), Sigtryggur Baldursson, Einar Benediktsson, Bragi Olafesson, Einar Mellax, Thor Eldon, and Magga Ornolfsdottir. Several of these characters were members of early bands together and eventually joined forces to form the Sugarcubes in the late 1980's (there were marriages, outside projects, and the like spurring on the line up changes but that's not really important for this review). Their music was immediately recognizable on college radio in the USA as something completely different from the songs playing on mainstream radio. I liked Bjork's completely different style of vocals, the band's weirdness, and in the context of the day & age; it all seemed to make sense back then. I know some female leads of the day were propped up and made over to use their sex appeal to sell records but not so the manly Bjork. No, she seemed to follow her hippie footsteps and try something the world at large simply hadn't seen before, doing so well that Iceland actually gave her an island for promoting the country so effectively. The band was together for a handful of years before they split up to go their separate ways, with Bjork finding even more success as a solo artist than as a member of the group.
The Sugarcubes: Live Zabor, was comprised of footage from several sources as well as the accompanying interviews. Tracks 1, 2, 15, 16, 17 and 19 were recorded in Reykjavik/Akureyri in May of 1989. Tracks 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were listed as coming from the London Astoria in May of 1988 (and directed by Richard Heslop). Tracks 14 and 18 were shot in October of 1988 in Auburn, Georgia for MTV with the remaining tracks uncredited. Here's the track list from the back of the DVD case:
1) Einar Interview
4) Magga Interview
6) Siggi Interview
7) Cold Sweat
8) Bragi Interview
11) Bjork Interview
13) Delicious Demon
14) Thor Interview
17) Eat the Menu
18) Speed is the Key
20) Luftgitar (featuring Johnny Triumph)
21) Birthday (Icelandic version)
Okay, the first thing I noticed is that there was no track 21 to be found and track 12 wasn't a separate track either (it was Bjork's discussion on a childhood fear of TV sets). I used three DVD players and my computer in hopes of perhaps finding it as a hidden track but no such luck. The DVD itself was just under an hour long; starting off with a silly interview by Einar on planets (suggesting that they are like people, that he doesn't like them, and then changing his mind). If that wasn't enough to remind me of the weirdness that is the Sugarcubes (I've been told that there were many insider jokes to their music and interviews but I think they were too inside for my tastes), the music kicked in and every few songs would come another interview full of the same nonsensical mumbo jumbo as the others. Magga was second, talking about her days in an ice cream shop as she shopped for groceries (including pig heads) and also gave a short lesson in Iceland food. At least Siggi seemed to have fun goofing on down South preachers (particularly Alabama and the Bible Belt) because Bragi seemed almost like he had been awoken to talk about cats and Bjork's fear of television sets was bizarre. The music itself was of greatly varying quality, looking as unpolished as I remember the Sugarcubes in their heyday so many years ago, but this applied to the visual elements of the videography too.
In all then, this was a nice complement to the Sugarcubes: The DVD collection of music videos but the same caveat will apply; if you like the band, you'll like the DVD but they're definitely an acquired taste. As such, I rated the DVD as another Rent It but give it a look as a wacky look at a band that I seriously doubt many people understood. It might've been a better idea to include the material of both DVD's on a single release but I'm sure the folks at Rhino had their reasons.
Picture: The Sugarcubes: Live Zabor was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color (there was some black & white but not much) the segments were shot in at various times between 1988 and 1989 while the band was on the road. I think I would've liked to have seen more of the concert from Auburn but the small club settings were more intimate and offered a more personal view of the band. There was a lot of grain, poor lighting, and special visual effects as used by bands in concert settings but I thought the material accurately conveyed the atmosphere of the venues they were shot in, even if the visuals weren't perfect. Most of the songs looked better than the videos of Sugarcubes: The DVD set too so fans will find this one pleasing to watch in large part.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital, sounding very much like concert footage everywhere. I got the impression that the music recorded was straight from the mixing board given the relative lack of distortion and crowd noise in most cases but I never doubted that they were singing live (for better or for worse). There wasn't a lot of separation between the tracks and the dynamic range was as limited as expected of a concert release but the Sugarcubes are one of those bands that sound very similar live so it shouldn't be a factor here.
Extras: There were no extras on the DVD.
Final Thoughts: The Sugarcubes: Live Zabor was a slice of the band's music on the road like the studio releases or videos could never truly provide. If you like the band, the technical qualities looked (and sounded) better here than in any other source I've observed over the years (tape and on cable). While I'm curious as to the missing tracks, particularly the missing bonus track (track #21 listed above), I thought it was a pretty good release by the band designed for fans.
If you like music of all sorts, here's a few other titles you may appreciate that have been released on DVD in the recent past:
Journey, New Order, Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, X, Pat Benatar, Selena, Cher, Galaxy 500, Sarah Brightman, Berlin, ZZ Top, Great Kat, Love & Rockets, and Everything But The Girl.