J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Axe Love: It Might Get Loud

If a rock doc doesn’t get loud, fans will want their money back. However, some of the more interesting moments of the great guitar summit featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, are in fact relatively quiet. Indeed, all three rock stars prove engagingly eloquent when discussing their instruments in Davis Guggenheim’s It Might Get Loud (trailer here), opening in New York and Los Angeles this Friday.

Loud’s concept is nearly foolproof: get together three rock guitarists with legit credibility as musicians to discuss music and jam. Each man is at a slightly different place in life, but all share a love of guitars. Former Zeppelin and Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page is a rock legend with nothing left to prove, yet he still has a zest for music. As the lead guitarist of U2, The Edge is currently at the pinnacle of the music business. Having attained some measure of commercial and critical success as part of the duo The White Stripes, as well as a reputation for eccentricity, White hopefully has a long, interesting career ahead of him.

While their harmony vocals on “The Weight” will not become the stuff of the legend, they show an easy rapport when talking about and through their axes. Of course, the three guitarists clearly come to rock, but the deep delta blues lurks beneath the surface of Loud, bubbling up during White’s sequences. Since the White Stripes previously covered “Death Letter,” their fans might already know Son House is the guitarist’s greatest formative inspiration. Watching him listen to the blues legend’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face” is quite an endearing moment for the garage rocker.

Before the summit, Loud shows each musician on his home turf, sometimes revisiting the sites of pivotal moments in their musical lives. Page might have the best reminisces, having played on some pretty diverse studio gigs before becoming a rock star, even including Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger session. Now he looks like a silver-maned English barrister, who ought to have a Dickensian name like “Gogglesworthy.” He can still play though.

White also displays some real down home charm, playing an endearing rendition of “Sitting On Top of the World” with his nine year-old son Little Jack. However, the cerebral Edge’s penchant for electronic effects and sound board tinkering comes across as a bit bloodless and premeditated. After all, isn’t rock supposed to be a little ragged round the edges?

Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, wisely forgoes the PowerPoint presentations and junk science in Loud. His strategy of using their music as a means of getting the artists to reveal their personalities works more often than not. Though White’s inclusion with the two more established artists might seem a bit questionable, he delivers some of the film’s more entertaining moments.

Ultimately, Loud might be a film for the considerable fan bases of the three artists’ respective bands, but it has an infectious guitar love that should hold the interest of wider audiences, even throwing several bones to die-hard blues fans. It is a pleasant music documentary, even for those who are not hardcore rockers. It opens Friday (8/14) at the Sunshine and AMC Empire 25 Theaters.

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