Music Video Distributors presents
The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital (1981)
"I know you been hiding something
Secrets in your past
Well, honey I just gotta know what's behind the mask
Please, baby please
Please give me one quick glance
Now how come I can't see your face
When I see what's in your pants? "- lyrics from What's Behind the Mask
Stars: Lux Interior, Poison Ivy Rorshach, Bryan Gregory, Nick Knox
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 00h:20m:21s
Release Date: 2004-02-04
DVD Review"We're The Cramps, and we're from New York City, and we drove 3,000 miles to play for you people. And somebody told me you people are crazy, but I'm not so sure about that. You seem to be alright to me." -Lux Interior, lead vocalist of The Cramps
On June 13, 1978 the infamous voodoo/shockabilly/sci-fi/horror/rock band The Cramps—for reasons never really made quite clear—performed a concert at Napa State Mental Hospital in California, and thankfully San Francisco's Target Video acquired the footage, which was originally released on poorly tracked VHS way back in 1984. If you're not familiar with The Cramps, then perhaps the surreal grandiosity of such a concert spectacle is lost on you, but let me try to impart that it is probably one of rock's most strange and demented moments; it is surely the kind of event that could never or would ever be staged today in this oh-so-politically-correct climate.
With music that sounds like a cross between a 1950s horror movie and the dark, very drunken side of rockabilly colliding with Eddy Cochrane and Duane Eddy's ghosts by way of hell, The Cramps carved a unique niche out for themselves, one that eventually became so deep they could never seem to dig themselves out. Formed by stringbean vocalist Lux Interior and girlfriend/bassist Poison Ivy Rorshach—who would always be the core members over the years—the band at their most creative featured the late Bryan Gregory on guitar and Nick Knox on drums, and that's the classic Cramps lineup featured here for this brief 20-minute concert. The Cramps became Halloween personified 24/7, and their songs were always extoling the virtues of the dangerous side of life with a B-movie twist.
Yes, the whole historic event is a lightning quick seven songs; whether the set was longer we don't know, but that's all that has been preserved here. The band is in Ritalin-free rare form, with Gregory and Rorschach exuding a cadaverous cool, appearing as pillars between the manic twirling of Lux Interior's twangy modified Southern growl, with Knox thumping out drumbeats on a kit with a shredded bass drum. The patients of the Napa State Mental Hospital are free to mingle with the band as they perform, sometimes swiping the microphone from Lux, as one over zealous audience member does during Human Fly.
The camera work is a bit shaky, moving around quickly at times before settling in one patient or another, each of whom seem to have their distinctive manner of expressing themselves. Meanwhile, The Cramps lurch through a quick set of music largely what would appear on their 1979 Gravest Hits collection, as well as a couple of tracks that would eventually show up on their 1980 breakthrough Songs The Lord Taught Us.
This pins the needle on cool.
The Way I Walk
What's Behind the Mask?
Twist and Shout
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: It's grainy, blurry, marred by all sorts of smudges, dirt and god knows what else, but this 1.33:1 transfer is going to have to stand as the best preserved recording of this one-of-a-kind concert. Like the Zapruder film was to the Kennedy assassination, this baby is the only living document of a strange chapter in musical history, and its flaws are like some kind of kaleidoscope that has to be looked through to enjoy this. The transfer to DVD from a video source is ripe with quite a few tracking issues, especially during the tacky title crawl. but those are actually the least of the ugly parts.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The back cover says this one's in 5.1 Surround, but that's just not the case. It's nothing more than 2.0 stereo, which in reality is fuzzy, distorted mono, not a surprise at all considering the source. Any kind of enhancement or embellishment of the original coarse audio recording would really have been sacrilege, and the so rough its cool presentation is almost hypnotic in its brutal minimalism.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 7 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Normally it is impressive when a single extra runs longer than feature, but in the case of the 20-minute runtime of The Cramps concert footage it wouldn't take much to surpass that. The Target Video Story (32m:30s) is a collection of clips about the San Francisco punk video label, all overseen by Target Video head Joe Reez. Featured are interview snippets from the likes of Jello Biafra, as well as concert performances from Crucifix, Flipper, Millions of Dead Cops, and Throbbing Gristle, among others. Initially I wasn't expecting much from this piece, but I was quickly blown back by the caliber of great footage from a slew of underground bands.
Also included are a number of 30-second excerpts from other MVD titles—not formal trailers, just clips—though I suppose the end result is the same. Clips provided are from Dee Dee Ramone, The Ramones, Butthole Surfers, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, H20, DOA, Shane MacGowan, GG Allin, Weirdos, and The Germs.
The disc is cut into seven chapters, one per song, and does not feature any subtitle options.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsI don't care what it looks like or sounds like. The concept here is nothing short of absolute rock-and-roll brilliance from one of music's woefully unsung heroes, and the fairly grungy quality actually gives the project a strange and mysterious charm all of its own.
Running a scant 20 minutes, this blink-and-you'll-miss-it video document captures what was probably one of the most dementedly inspired rock performances of the 1970s.
Rich Rosell 2004-09-02