THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"NO ROOM FOR ROCKSTARS"
There have been a number of successful and popular rock tours over the years: Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair (which I confess I attended twice) and, of course, the Vans Warped Tour. For 17 years now, the VWT has showcased both upcoming and established punk rock bands, and helped to launch such well-known acts as Green Day, Eminem, and No Doubt. Parris Patton's new documentary No Room for Rockstars takes us behind the scenes of the Vans Warped Tour. Given that the tour officially cooperated with the production, it's amazing how unvarnished its portrait is.
The film follows the tour through a hectic 2010 summer schedule, during which the operation travels thousands of miles in just eight weeks. There are interview segments with the devoted fans who show up, as well as the crew members, who essentially build a small city and tear it down each day. Most of the emphasis, though, is on the musicians, several of whom we get to know. Mitch Lucker, vocalist for Suicide Silence, understands that touring is essential for his band's music to get heard, but starts to miss his wife and child during long days on the road. Never Shout Never's Christofer Drew looks like Justin Bieber if he decided to dress as punk rocker for Halloween, plays to almost exclusively young female audiences, and has a crisis of conscience mid-way through the tour. Mike Posner comes with a hit song (“Cooler Than Me”) that proceeds to exponentially blow up during the eight weeks on the road. Posner is quite aware that he's sold more records than most of the other artists on the bill, many of whom have been at it for a lot longer than he. Some of those bands express passive-aggressive resentment toward him.
There's also one band not on the bill. Joe Candelaria and his band Forever Came Calling hail from 29 Palms, California. They pile into a van and follow the tour from city to city, where they peddle their CDs to ticket-holders and hope to convince tour founder Kevin Lyman to let them play one of the smaller stages. The film builds suspense by not letting us see them perform until the end, so we're not sure whether they have the potential to be another Vans Warped Tour breakout act. Either way, their tenaciousness is a fine example of the VWT spirit.
What No Room for Rockstars does best is show the less glamorous side of touring. We can see that it's grueling. The musicians get tired, and lonely, and disoriented from moving so rapidly from city to city. They're forced to share cramped tour buses. They yearn for the comforts of home. Baths and clothing changes are rare. When a dangerous storm hits Texas, one band gets pissed because they're cut from the truncated performance schedule. After all, every show not played could result in the loss of potential CD sales. Sure, there are parties every night (often leading to devastating hangovers the following day), but taking part in the Vans Warped Tour is definitely work. So why do they do it? Because it's a fun, collegial atmosphere, and because they live for those moments onstage, rocking out to appreciative fans.
No Room for Rockstars is a briskly-paced documentary that does what every good cinema verite-style film should: it illuminates its subject so that you are compelled, whether that subject is of natural interest to you or not. Admittedly, as an alt-rock fan, the Vans Warped Tour was something I wanted to see a film about, yet I suspect it will captivate others, too. Patton coaxes frank comments from his subjects, while simultaneously giving you appreciation for the complexity of an event that is meant as entertainment. When pulled off properly, no one sees the blood, sweat, and tears that make up something like this tour.
And really, that's what the movie delivers – blood, sweat, and tears. No Room for Rockstars pulls back the curtain to show the true inner workings of a full-scale concert tour. Whether it's Kevin Lyman putting out fires, or stagehands racing to assemble the performance venue on time, or the musicians themselves struggling to deal with the pressures of fame and life on the road, this doc exposes all the stuff that's not meant to be seen when fans are enjoying the show. The Vans Warped Tour is, at some level, a magic trick, and every single person who helps put it together is a master magician. When they get it right, the audience has a blast, never knowing (or even thinking) how the trick was accomplished.
Whether you love the kind of music played on the Vans Warped Tour, or are just interested in a compelling, well-made documentary, this is a film that definitely belongs on your radar.
Note: No Room for Rockstars is available now on iTunes. It will be released on VOD and DVD on May 8.
( 1/2 out of four)
No Room for Rockstars is unrated but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.
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