- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Thompson
on’t let the rating of this DVD diminish the overall importance of the Ramones. God knows that the band was there slightly before punk’s explosion out of NYC here in the States and rode right through all that genre’s history and kept the tunes coming on through the ‘90s. They were loud, fast, and fun. They kept the whole “less is more” recipe intact on stage even if they didn’t always deliver the best studio albums. They’re bigger than the Beatles to many of their fans, and undoubtedly it’s getting easier to relate to “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” than “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The Ramones looked cool too, in their leather and denim outfits that never changed. But really, why change at all when the same old sounds wind up coming around again every few years, anyway?
The main problem with “It’s Alive 1974-1996” is that it’s just too damn repetitive after a while. Well, make that not even after a while, really. Not to say it isn’t really cool to see the early Ramones in 1974 blaze through a trio of songs at CBGB’s as sloppily as possible without being able to make out a single word coming from Joey’s mouth. Indeed, fans get to see them go from up-and-comers to stars in their own right by the time the big “It’s Alive” show at the Rainbow in 1977 comes along to close the first disc of this two-disc set. But watching the band go through basically a lot of the same songs over and over at different venues and performing them at the same breakneck pace with Joey not saying much in between wears thin pretty damn fast.
Granted, you’ll see the boys tighten up here and there. The debut of “Judy is a Punk” at CBGB’s in ’74 is pretty ghetto, but more than recognizable by the time we see it performed again after the Ramones’ debut album had been out. The second DVD, covering the years 1978-1996, shows the band slowing it down just slightly and locking together like a well-oiled machine, but you can still compare all the different versions of “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?” here and easily tell when they were into it and when they were just bashing it out. If anything, it’s absolutely hilarious to see the band on the clip of “Musikladen,” playing to a mixed crowd with one shot showing a woman sitting at her table completely bored while a couple of kids a few tables over are obviously wanting to get into the tunes more than they were allowed.
We even get to see the band’s appearance on the old “Sha Na Na” TV show in 1980. The performance is canned as to be expected and man, that show was just as bad as I remembered it being. TV was certainly different back then. But it’s at least amusing to see how uncomfortable the Ramones were appearing on the show and going through their stupid lines while Sha Na Na hammed it up and Bowser overdid it, as usual. The “performance” of “Baby I Love You” on “Top of the Pops” in 1980 is also a bit of fun as the band has a violin section faking along with them. You can’t beat that.
But these breaks from the whirlwind action are few and far between. Watching the band bust through set after set as fast as possible, with Dee Dee doing his “ONETWOTHREEFOUR!” just as breathlessly between songs, can be a lot to sit through in one go on either disc. Perhaps this set is made to be broken up in chunks, but even so, it’s repetitive even in that format. And by the time the band gets to 1996, and playing to a huge crowd in Argentina at River Plate Stadium, one is almost strongly yearning for those earlier CBGB shows, as Johnny was the only other member to stick around with Joey for the long haul. The performance almost seems tired even though the energy is all there in appearance. But hey, the band did it their way for years and survived with tons of fans well after many other bands had bitten the dust years before.
As far as the extras go here, they are numerous. There are ten interviews in all, ranging from topics such as “What is Punk?” to Dee Dee talking about coffee and cigarettes and Joey talking about the band’s artistic growth. There’s also a short documentary entitled “Argentina: The First Time,” a semi-funny interview with Joey on the set of “Mandagsboren,” and the full clip of the Ramones appearing on “Sha Na Na” before they rip into their tune. But wait! There’s more! You also get three super rare videos clips for “It’s Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World),” “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” and a rough cut for “Somebody Put Something in My Drink.” If that’s not enough, then there’s also a photo gallery thrown in as well. Viva big bonuses! Truly though, these bonus bits are some of the best moments on this set and make for a welcome break from all the live sets.
For the fans, “It’s Alive 1974-1996” will be a must. Those who have followed the group religiously will have plenty to enjoy here without people talking over the clips and other such hoo-ha as was the case for some of these bits when they have appeared elsewhere. The casual Ramones fan will probably be overwhelmed here and possibly bored fast outright, which can be completely understandable. The Ramones’ live shows weren’t about a spectacle, but about getting out there, playing the songs, and getting off the stage, for the most part. Sure, this changed as the band played bigger venues, but there’s a ton to sift through here that comprises the smaller clubs. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have all this stuff together in one place. God knows the boys had enough of the stuff to make a worthwhile compilation at a nice price.