Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Most everything I could determine about the disc Iron Butterfly Concert & Documentary Europe 1997 comes right from its title. The 63-minute concert show has no credits and no on-screen copyright date. Fans of the early psychedelic rock band will enjoy seeing eight songs performed in a controlled stage situation supposedly filmed during their "1997 European Tour". The Butterfly more or less broke up in 1971, reformed in 1974, and had a spotty life with different personnel until 1987, when original members Doug Ingle and Ron Bushy settled the band into a steady touring group.
Iron Butterfly's albums Heavy, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Ball were big news back in my high school town, San Bernardino, California. Our Swing Auditorium at the Orange Show had great, affordable concerts; big acts liked to play there because the appreciative locals turned out in large numbers: Credence Clearwater, The Moody Blues. If I recall correctly, I missed The Butterfly when it came to the Swing. The buzz around school was that the more famous Jefferson Airplane seemed disjointed and just plain "out of it", while Iron Butterfly delivered exactly what the crowd wanted.
Later on the Butterfly still has its appeal, even if many of the lyrics I loved now seem an uninspired collection of anti-authoritarian rhymes. Some now make me wince:
"What the man says is always right / He'll cut your hair, so you can fight."
Perhaps teens elsewhere knew better, in places like Los Angeles where a higher level of sophistication was said to prevail: to us, any young person from L.A. was presumed to exist on a higher level. My personal "I'm into rock 'n' roll" stage lasted only as long as my Muntz 4-Track cartridge tape player still worked. I remember a season where one couldn't go to a friend's house without someone dragging out In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida for us all to marvel at the long drum solo. Long album cuts were IN ... we considered ourselves hip because we turned our noses up at AM radio cut-downs of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and the Doors' Light My Fire. So much for my cultured upbringing.
Just the same, Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album is one of the top sellers of all time. It reportedly did so well (is this apocryphal?) that the Platinum award was created to establish a higher mark of achievement than the Gold record.
The disc concert show appears to be professionally produced, but the quality on the disc is only mediocre. Colors smear and the concert-like lighting presents overly bright figures against a dark background. The show appears to have been taped in a small studio with an audience of perhaps thirty people, tops. The uncredited director doesn't bother with many reaction shots, as the "fans" only seem slightly entertained. They're probably family members and friends of the band.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as The Butterfly's performances are unmolested by extraneous noise. But the director and editors overwork every ancient video gag ever applied to a rock video, using split screens, video distortions and, of course, Chroma Key mattes of dancing silhouettes. Various solarized aerial views (of London?) are added as well, to no particular effect. Canned psychedelia can have nostalgic appeal in the context with of rockers filmed back in the day, 1968 or thereabouts. As the key Butterfly members are now in their sixties, it all comes off as a little silly. The best part of the show is just watching them play their instruments in those moments when the director backs off from his video mixing board.
Main vocalist Doug Ingle sounds pretty much the same as he ever did, and the songs are delivered more or less unaltered from their old album versions; these guys know to stick with what their public wants. Fans will be happy that they're still playing at all, as little or no film footage of the group from their heyday appears to exist. The song lineup is as follows:
1. Introduction The group says "hi" while grabbing a bite to eat.
2. Iron Butterfly Theme
3. Unconscious Power
4. In the Time of Our Lives
5. Flowers and Beads
6. Silent Screaming
7. Butterfly Blue
8. Whispers in the Wind
I'd say the sound mix is reasonable. The packaging states "Dolby Digital AC3" but I'll have to leave a detailed critique of the audio component to others.
As an extra, Doug Ingle and Ron Bushy are seen in unorganized video footage called a bonus interview. Ingle's section appears to be filmed in a Southern California back yard; he begins by singing to an acoustic guitar. Ingle gives a rambling talk about trying to move the band to L.A. so he can seek a job writing music for movies. Ron Bushy offers some thoughts about how fast the group's heyday went by and how grateful he is to have been able to do something creative.
Legend has it that the title In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was sourced in a drunken slurred reading of the words "In the Garden of Eden". Ingle now states that he purposely blurred the Biblical reference to show his respect for the beliefs of Judeo-Christians. But, as if expecting some editorial intervention down the line, he then repeats the drunken version of the story. Yes, this from a lyricist who built an entire make-out song around the phrase, "Come here, woman!"
The "interview" extra carries no identifying subtitles, but we're told that English guitarist Steve Howe is the gentleman making statements about the Butterfly performing with Yes in 1971. The disorganized video goes on in this manner for forty minutes. A paper insert included with the disc is equally frustrating; it manages to use 400 words without saying anything whatsoever useful about the group, the "concert" or the DVD we are viewing. To its credit, the insert does try to explain the meaning of the phrases "heavy" and "far out".
Iron Butterfly fans will surely be interested in hearing the songs, even if they don't listen to much of the interview material.
Doug Ingle, vocals & Keyboard
Lee Dorman, bass, vocals
Ron Bushy, drums
Eric Barnett, guitar, vocals
Derek Hilland, additional keyboardist
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Iron Butterfly Concert & Documentary Europe 1997 rates:
Show: Good -
Supplements: interview "docu"
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 14, 2009
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson
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