With a murky but well documented history filled with rumour and controversy that probably helped the band gain attention in its early years by garnering an outsider reputation that fueled their ambitions, there are a still a lot of things to like about Suicidal Tendencies. Commitment to community, independence, free thought, and a clear respect for where they come from all come to mind, even if most of it can only be referenced by the single original member and singer Mike Muir. They are also a very good live band that has gained a reputation built on shows and music that owes as much to punk as it does to metal in that unique fusion of melody, hooks and aggression that skaters seem to like almost everywhere.

This is the first live set committed to film for an entire DVD since the band arrived out of Venice, California in the early days of the 80s. There have been other snippets of live performances, notably included in the 'Lights, Camera…Suicidal' video in 1990 along with videos and interview footage but this is the first set released on film. The concert set this release is from occurred as a fond homage to the venerable Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles during its last days of operation before becoming a church in 2005.

The Olympic was built in 1932 as a venue for the Los Angeles Olympics and hosted boxing, wrestling and many other shows over the years including the weird and wonderful Roller Derby events as the home of the LA T-birds. In the 80s it hosted a serious slate of punk rock shows starting with Public Image Ltd and including Fear, The Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, TSOL and the Dickies among many others along the way for the next 25 years as well as being the site of the last Rage Against the Machine shows. With this history as the backdrop for a last whoop and holler…Suicidal Tendencies was called in to do the honors.

I watched the DVD for the first time with two members of my family who are fans of the band; my brother-in -aw Ron used to play bass in a few unknown LA bands and was an early fan…the kind who can sing ALL the lyrics…and my niece Tara who has an active interest in current and past punk, along with other forms of music, to go along with her 10 inch Mohawk. The following is a distillation of what we all observed aloud during the show.

There are some problems with this DVD that doesn’t have much to do with the band. The directing is pretty static and adds to the fishbowl effect that all live performances suffer when they are filmed. Shows like this are as much about the energy in the audience as they are about the energy onstage and, other than shots of the true believers pressed together at the front, nothing gives the sense that there was a party going on in the mosh pit…where it certainly was. Perhaps they didn’t want to damage a camera or camera operator in the attempt to capture the action in the pit but it would have helped the overall energy level.

Instead we get mostly long and medium shots that linger on the whole stage and show fans, friends and family standing behind the band onstage as they play. Having a bunch of people standing around behind you doing nothing much to be engaged in the music by way of moving or dancing doesn’t help frame the show.

Also, there is a short interview with Mike Muir at the top of the DVD that seems a bit too edited for the good of the film. Muir is articulate and a good interview and the footage with him might have been used to better advantage.

There are some good things that we all agreed on. The sound is very good. The band, although they seem to be affected at first a little by the event itself that causes them to play a bit stiff off the top of the set, by the time 'Possessed to Skate' arrives about midway, the band catches fire and eventually careens into 'Institutionalized' as though looking forward to the contact like the slammers in the pit.

This second half of the show makes me wish I could watch footage of the band from a smaller venue, face to face with its crowd and its own history, making something from sweat and spit and physicality that elevated both audience and musicians. A film that captures how it feels to be in the room is a rare and difficult thing to come across. So much of what is great about a live set is about things that are not onstage. Sure, the music and band can be the catalyst but the sound, the room, the people around you and whatever they’ve ingested to make the evening get along can all play into the outcome. Film cannot reproduce many of the elements that help the audience and the band enjoy the moment. The act of filming a live show takes too much of the air out of the room and to be fair, almost every good DVD of a live performance leaves something wanting.

If you are already a Suicidal Tendencies fan, you will probably like this DVD as a memento of a live show for your collection but I am not sure it would be a good way to introduce the band to a new listener…play your fav CD instead. If you don’t yet know the band, go see them live and then buy the DVD as a souvenir. A rock and roll recommendation to read the book first, then see the movie.

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