music in high places

DVD REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls – Live In Alaska (2002)

GOO GOO DOLLS – Live In Alaska (2002 Earth Escapes DVD)

I bought this for myself the week after I broke up with Radio Station Girl, looking for some new music to soothe my soul.  This DVD hit the spot for two reasons: the music and the scenery.  I like a lot of Goo Goo Dolls’ albums, and I really love the icy landscapes of the north.  Live In Alaska delivers on both.  From a series called “Music in High Places”, the DVD takes us all the way to Arctic Circle among the glaciers.  The band don’t play a traditional concert.  Instead they made videos in unusual locations, such as outdoors next to a partially frozen lake in the tundra.

That is the scene for “Black Balloon”.  There must have been some serious technical challenges to record there.  There are scenes of people arriving by small plane and air drops of equipment by helicopter, and then getting into position via rubber dinghy.   Wouldn’t it be hard acoustically to record songs in an open expanse?  I don’t know, but they did it and I like it.  The visuals add another element, and it surely must have been inspiring for the band to play in such a clean, isolated environment.

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Up next, the Dolls get to participate in the sport of dogsledding on Punchbowl glacier.  Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik says, “I have a really cool job. I get to do stuff like this,” and I’m jealous!  It’s warm enough for just short sleeves.  He is then taken by helicopter to an even more beautiful and remote location.  Standing on an ice island in the middle of a sparkling blue lake in the middle of Knik glacier, Rzeznik sings “Acoustic #3”, and it’s haunting.  It’s also a sight to behold.  The frigid water is bluer than anything you have seen before, not to mention this is one of his most beautiful songs.  You can hear the water gurgling faintly behind.

The band reconvenes in Hope, Alaksa at a tiny little bar to play the hit “Broadway” acoustically.  If the locals know who they are, they don’t let on, but one does play harmonica with them.  This is one of their best tunes, and I like the sound of it in this environment.  Only one thing pisses me off, and that’s interrupting the damn song to edit in some interview footage!   Bad editing.  I don’t know why some videos do this — splice interviews into the middle of the song.  Fucking stop it!  I hate that!  Fortunately, one of the DVD bonus features is something called “just the music”, where you can watch the song uninterrupted.

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Going mudsliding looks like a ton of fun.  The Dolls had a blast playing this game with kids, and getting absolutely covered in mud in the process.  (Rzeznik after cleaning: “It looked like a mud bomb went off in my bathroom.”)  Another cool concert location is on a train, where “Here Is Gone” is performed.  I must wonder if this was a technical nightmare to record.  The train appears to be moving extra slowly, perhaps to reduce noise.  I am sure this scene was meticulously planned.  The train was a special charter for the Dolls, and they could start and stop as they pleased.  The band are in a coach car with a glass dome roof.  The train enters a tunnel mid song, and things get dark, before it emerges in the light again at the end of the tune.  Really cool shot.

Flying to Kotzebue, Alaska the band are greeting by a cheering crowd.  The local news crews are out for this major event!  The next concert location is a bridge, where they play “Big Machine”.  This song isn’t as strong acoustically.  The album version with its electric riff is more interesting, but hey.  It’s the outdoors in Alaska in the summertime.  What more do you need?

Taking a break from performing for a moment, the band next get to enjoy some native culture and music.  But then it’s back to work, and they play “What A Scene” right there on a stoney ocean beach surrounded by the townsfolk.  10% of the population turned out for it!  This track works a bit better acoustically to my ears than “Big Machine” did.  Some of the kids in town are into it, some look bored, but soon it’s back to fun and games.  People are hurled into the air via a huge trampoline-like skin.  Robby Takac volunteers and gets pretty high up there!  But he only does it once!

The final song of the DVD is “Slide”, another huge favourite of mine. This is performed by the full band, on another chunk of ice in the middle of a lake.  You could not imagine a more perfect setting for such a bright, melodic song.  Once again I wonder about the technicalities of recording this performance but it sure looks and sounds 100% live.  Behind the scenes shots show giant boom mics and cameras on cranes.  Great tune to close on though, a highlight of this set and their career.

GOO GOO_0003The DVD has some very cool bonus features.  These include a terrible text bio that nobody will ever read.  The others include behind the scenes documentaries about Kotzebue and its inhabitants, and the Alaskan railroad.  Some of this material is included in the main feature, but it’s not really about the band.  It’s about the people and the scenery, but that’s cool in its own right. Interesting fact:  Even though the sun shines all night in Kotzebue in July, they still have fireworks on the 4th.  They’re not as cool, but they do have ’em!  They also have warm sunny swimming at 1 am, and the local radio station gets calls for requests all the way from Russia.

Not listed on the back of the package, but more important than the other features, are two bonus songs.  These can only be found if you happen to check out the “just the music” section.  “Sympathy” is the first, performed acoustically on the train.  Great tune.  “Do You Know” is the second, on the beach on Kotzebue.  This is Robby Takac’s only lead vocal (and it was cut from the main feature)!  This song reflects the Goo Goo Dolls punk rock side, from which they originated.  Robby’s vocal is raspy and ragged, just like I like it!

For Goo Goo Dolls fans, I can’t recommend this DVD enough.  The cool thing is that even if you’re just a casual fan who knows the hits, you’d dig it too.

4.5/5 stars

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