The concert videography in Burn to Shine is good, especially if you’re the kind of viewer who simply likes to watch musicians play without a whole lot of nonsense. Brendan Canty and crew shoot the eleven-song set in the den of a large, unoccupied house in Tualatin, about 15 miles south of downtown Portland, without an audience, stage lights, or even a stage. That spartan set focuses the viewing on the music, as if you were sitting on band practice. It’s enjoyable viewing, whether you enjoy all the tunes.
The camerawork and restrained editing give you good, patient shots of the musicians, so you get some sense of each player’s style. And by and large, they’re good musicians; every band has something to recommend it or is at least having a good time. No one seems put off by the audience-less, living-room-on-a-golf-course environs.
In such a simple environment, shtick looks goofier than normal. The Planet The’s singer, whose gestures would make more sense in front of a packed house, must have had to get himself real psyched up to act that way without an audience. Or maybe he’s just like that. The other big goofball in this edition is Decemberists leader Colin Meloy, whose vocal and facial affectations wear thin well before the end of the 8-minute "Mariners Revenge Song."
Still, one can underperform in this context. Quasi’s "Peace and Love" doesn’t quite have enough happening, maybe because it’s played by two seated musicians. Mirah’s "Light the Match" might be the best show: her three supporting players just stand and play without much expression, and she just paces a bit without any shoes on and sings with her eyes closed, but it looks like there’s something secretly amusing to her about the song. It’s fun to watch.
The sound is mostly good, although The Thermals get the worst of it, guitar and snare drum sounding dead despite the spirited performance. A bigger musical gripe is that curator Chris Funk seldom strays from a familiar core of indie-pop.
The disc neatly presents eleven bands each performing a song, but surely much more was captured on record that day, and a fraction of this appears in interstitial footage. A couple of these little clips are great, the best one being the shot of The Ready posing with The Shins. Tom Heinl’s "The Christmas Tree Is On Fire", included as an extra, is worth seeing, too.
It’s unclear how the Burn to Shine concept, filming several bands perform in a house the day before it’s destroyed, comes to bear on the content. Other than some subtle shots of the interior and of golfers outside, and Janet Weiss stepping through a window mid-song to play harmonica and drums for Sleater-Kinney, the house doesn’t seem particularly relevant. That is, until The Gossip finishes the day, the sky darkening amid their sparse, vaguely foreboding funk. What follows, the fire department burning the house down, is as cool an end to a DVD of bands playing as one could have. For one thing, it’s conceptually stronger than the melodramatic voiceover at the beginning. But more than that, it’s an oddly heavy-handed way of making a trivial point: something great happened here, and the next day, it was gone.