21 July 2010

CD/DVD REVIEW: Cabezas de Cera - CDC Live USA

At 11 am on a Saturday morning in June 2009, 3 men from Mexico strode onto a stage in Bethlehem PA, carefully made their way around a plethora of stomp boxes, effects units, and instruments, and laid down a performance entirely unlike any other in NEARfest’s long history. Thankfully for those unable to attend the festival, Studio M’s cameras were rolling, and the end results can be seen and savoured on the newest release by Cabezas de Cera, CDC Live USA.

This album from CDC is more than just a concert DVD, though that may well be the part played most often. An audio CD accompanies the footage, giving fans an opportunity to relive the show without being tethered to their TV and DVD. Additionally, the DVD includes not just the band’s stunning and surprising performance, but a behind the scenes documentary on their 2009 North American tour, a short documentary filmed and edited by Adele Schmidt (of Romantic Warriors documentary fame), a gallery of NEARfest photography by Joe del Tufo, and an animated short titled ‘Azul Hiel Luhubre Nectar,’ with music by CDC.

Let’s start with the main program.

Studio M has done a great job in the past with capturing concerts and providing an end result that strays far away from the now standard MTV style editing that plagues so many videos these days. CDC’s release is no different…interesting angles are selected, shots are allowed to linger, and musicians are highlighted during appropriate times. For someone unsure of how this trio creates such a full sound on stage, the DVD will be enlightening. For those unable to figure out how they craft some of the unusual sounds that typify their music, one viewing will answer many questions, and perhaps raise just as many more. Video quality is excellent, even in darker scenes, and the minimalist staging suits a band where the attention is more on who is playing, and how they are playing, than anything else. DVD sound quality is excellent as well, with plenty of range and depth. Some of the sounds seem almost impossible to capture (I know this is exaggeration, but it’s true…when I heard them play live, I wondered how on earth anyone could bottle the lightning that was happening on stage; anything that could be processed was being processed), but it’s all there in crystal clear stereo. There is no 5.1 option, and while I could see how that might have been an interesting choice, the music does not suffer at all for it.

The behind the scenes documentary is an interesting piece of cinema verite; shot on hand held camcorder, it’s a rough and ready, bootleg-esque look at the tour from NEARfest through Philadelphia, shows in Washington DC, Wilmington Delaware, and Baltimore Maryland. It is perhaps a bit shocking to see a band that had previously played to nearly 1000 people playing a small club or bar with less than 100 people in attendance, but sadly such is the life of a touring progressive musician. Outside of the festival scene, the live music environment for someone not formerly (or currently) in one of the big six bands is almost non existent. Something like this is, for me, almost an essential viewing recommendation for people who seem to have no issues downloading music without paying…but that’s a story for another time.

Adele Schmidt’s documentary, I am assuming, is derived from material filmed for her Romantic Warriors film on progressive music. Without subtitles (sadly, I am far from fluent in Spanish and/or Mexican in any dialect) it’s hard for me to tell what the band is talking about, so I can’t appreciate it as much as I’d like. From an artistic standpoint it looks great, however, and makes me want to buy Romantic Warriors even more. The photo gallery is filled with excellent CDC photos from NEARfest, as mentioned above, by Joe del Tufo. Finally, the animated short featured in the extras is an interesting bit of film, with music I am assuming was specially written and recorded by CDC for the purpose. All the extras offer up a different look at the band, and as such should not be relegated to a single viewing and then left alone.

The audio CD covers the same material, obviously, as the DVD, and again sound quality is excellent. All of the official NEARfest recordings released thus far have been consistent in that regard, and it’s nice to know that the tradition continues here. It’s hard to pick highlights, as every song is so different from every other one. The brooding opener ‘Indomable’ is an excellent piece to start a show with, building slowly with mood and tension to match. ‘Peregrino’ features some wonderful 12 string guitar playing from Marucio Sotelo, while ‘Pretexto A Un Texto Fragmentado’ may be one of the oddest songs ever played on a NEARfest stage, complete with frantic electronic drumming from Francisco Sotelo, sampled sounds that’d not be out of place on a dance record, and super-heavily effected vocals that go from depths Barry White only dreamed of, to high pitched tones reminiscent of a pot head pixie. ‘Mutacion’ features Sotelo on a strange hand made 3-stringed instrument that is alternately played like a slide guitar before offering up effected violin-like tones out of Jimmy Page’s darkest ‘dazed and Confused’ dreams. Throughout it all, Ramsés Luna switches between whistles, saxophones, MIDI wind instruments, and vocals, adept on anything placed in his hands.

Cabezas de Cera’s performance at NEARfest 2009 was a special one, one that needed to be seen more than once to truly understand and get it all. Thankfully, we have this DVD and CD set to ensure that can happen.

Track Listing (CD and DVD)
Pretexto a un Texto Fragmentado
Nocturno Incandescente
Cazador de Ballenas

Francisco Sotelo - Drums
Mauricio Sotelo - Grand Stick, Chapman Stick, charrofono, guitars
Ramsés Luna - Saxohpone, wind MIDI, whistle

Edgar Arrellín - Audio design


Mpomy said...

Great review. Any idea how I get a copy of this?

Bill K. said...

As a matter of fact I do. I don't want to post the guy's e-mail address who is handling US sales, but if you send me an e-mail at bill.knispel at gmail.com, I can provide you all the pertinent details. It's a killer package, and one that I absolutely love.

חופש החיפוש said...

Great review, very helpful, I'm getting the DVD now as we "speak".

Unknown said...

The CD/DVD of CDC Live USA is available at Amazon.