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The Ramones
It's Alive 1974-1996
Rhino Home Video
www.ramones.com


If you were there, you get it… if you weren't there, then this is your chance to catch up and get it. What is it, you ask? Why, Ramones fever, of course! The new Ramones It's Alive release from Rhino Home Video documents over twenty years of live shows from what is arguably the greatest American punk band… ever. If you don't believe, then check out this amazing 2 disc set featuring around four hours of music and awesome footage.

From the earliest documented Ramones shows at the infamous CBGB where all the original dudes are skinnier than I ever believed skinny could be and younger than I can ever remember being myself to stadium shows in the late 90's featuring a more mature but just as rocking line-up, this collection is essential Ramones watching. The first show on the DVD is amazingly tight for a band of toothpicky fourteen year olds clad in leather and white shirts. By the show at Max's Kansas City almost two years later the music is heavier and more complex (about as complex as The Ramones ever got, actually) but the boys still looked a bit young for the part. Almost a month later in the early summer of '76 the band had reached its image… the image that would stick for the next twenty years, accompanying the sound of rock music as some folks wish it still was. The next CBGB installment in the summer of '77 really has the band in fine form, playing classic songs like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", but still a bit rougher around the edges than they would eventually become. The remainder of disc one focuses on performances from the later half of 1977, illustrating just how fast the Ramones took their Beach Boys-gone-loud sound and polished it up just a bit more to the fine grit for which they've come to be known.

Disc two shows the band traveling around the world, writing new songs, and maturing as performers. The Ramones grew to the size of their crowds, turning from moppy-headed young punks to full-blown moppy-headed older punks with smoother demeanors but the same gritty penchant for rocking. The Old Grey Whistle Test performance from 1978 is electric, filled with the kind of energy that is still indelibly linked to the name Ramones. By the time the band returned to play in 1985 there was a new rhythm section but there was no doubt the Ramones still ruled the punk rock scene… The version of "Chasing The Night" is incredible, complete with growly vocals and stuttering guitar, and while the band seems more docile with the new line-up, there is still something magnetic about the music. The final included show from 1996 in Buenos Aires shows a band that has grown older, switched from black hair dye to blonde, changed some rhythm players, but continues to rock like no one's business. The power of the Ramones is obvious when listening to the final track here, an amazingly raucous version of "Blitzkrieg Bop".

As the credits roll, it's obvious that the Ramones were different in punk rock - the fans are smiling, normal-looking kids who are just up for having a good time, rather than the stereotypical sneering pierced and leather-clad punk rocker we tend to romanticize. The Ramones were fun, and these DVDs illustrate just how fun the band was. The musical world has a huge debt to pay to the Ramones, and I believe that this DVD collection makes it crystal clear just how influential the band was throughout its career. But I guess what this DVD reminds me most of all is that the thing I really miss is DeeDee shouting out "one, two, three, four!" at the beginning of every song in a tempo that has nothing to do with the actual tempo of the song that starts… That Johnny somehow maintained that horrible Mosrite tone throughout the life of the band, but made it sound good… And that Joey, in all his gruffness, was really quite smooth and maintained his typical stoic rock'n'roll persona 'til the very end.

This is classic Ramones footage of classic Ramones songs… well worth the price of admission. Long live rock!

-Embo Blake


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