Since March 23, Warner Bros. has been putting out rare, hard-to-find titles for your ultra-collectory types. For $19.95, Warner Archives will burn you a no-frills DVD-R, with a trailer the only potential extra — if they can dig one up. And as the AV Club‘s Noel Murray points out, one of their latest catalog titles is 1981’s “Urgh! A Music War.” This is pretty much the best news of the week.
If you’re unfamiliar, “Urgh!” is the greatest concert movie ever that’s not “Stop Making Sense.” Rather than wasting time on things like “context” and “interviews,” the film consists of 36 performances in two hours, an exceedingly random cross-section of rock bubbling just under and at New Wave radar. Director Derek Burbidge was willing to showcase anyone he thought might be remotely worthwhile, so you get Oingo Boingo and The Go-Go’s before they were big, but also less remembered groups like the delightfully named Athletico Spizz 80 (performing “Where’s Captain Kirk?”). There’s punk (Dead Kennedys), synth-pop, XTC before Andy Partridge had a nervous breakdown and stopped playing live and three sweaty, rocking Police performances. Upon release, the New York Times‘ Robert Palmer complained that many of the clips were misleading, and that “several bands have progressed considerably, or broken up, since the film was shot.” Which is precisely what makes it so great to watch; it’s a seemingly indiscriminate time capsule of excellent stuff.
It’s been impossible to find a decent copy of “Urgh!” for years now, and the sample clip looks solid. It’s unclear if the music rights situation that presumably made the film so hard to come by has been totally cleared up — the site doesn’t list splodgenessabounds as one of the acts on the DVD — but it’s good enough.
Best of all, “Urgh!” has the straight-up weird. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen legendary falsetto/downtown oddity Klaus Nomi in full black-and-white make-up and costume singing about a solar eclipse. Or Gary Numan riding in a little car around a stage seemingly designed for a musical version of “Tron.” His performance strategy is simply to glare at people when he’s not singing emotionlessly. Both are below: