Alkari, Alkari (DVD)
It is really, truly a different age for making music, folks. Not to get all grandpa-like, but back when I was in a band — which wasn’t that long ago, honestly, in the grand scheme of things — I only knew one band who’d ever put together a video, and it was a crazed, DIY effort that was halfway between a “real” video and a gag reel. No DVDs, no MP4s, no YouTube; just hand-copied VHS tapes.
All of which is to say that when I see videos bands from Houston are making these days, I’m pretty generally stunned and amazed at what’s possible, even if the people involved can’t quite pull it off.
Take Alkari’s self-titled debut DVD — it’s primarily a collection of videos for four of the band’s better songs, but it also does double-duty as a real release and an easy-to-hand-out promo kit that includes any info you could possibly want on the band themselves right alongside the videos. Back in my day, something like this would’ve been inconceivable; now you can do it all on your laptop.
Of course, it helps if you work for a production company, as Alkari frontman, guitarist, and singer Mike Beatty does — he provides the music for commercials and videos produced by 281 Productions, apparently, so it’s a pretty logical step to have ‘em do his band’s videos. Unfortunately, that can work a bit against the band, and that’s somewhat the case here; no matter what you do, video never looks like film, and video’s what the 281 guys do, so the production can look a little less MTV and more late-night TV.
As I watch and listen to the videos, though, I find I’m enjoying the hell out of the thing; there’s not a lot that’s groundbreaking here, mostly just concert footage, but it’s entertaining for what it is. The video for “If I Could” doesn’t add much to the song itself, but it’s still fun, and the song’s still pretty damn great, with that huge-yet-up-close guitar sound and insistent riff.
The video for “The Code” is the high point of the DVD, at least for me — the sped-up motion of all the band members and assorted friends actually nicely captures the desperation lurking beneath the surface of the song, with frontman Mike Beatty seemingly already half-resigned to the fact that he’s never going to find that one magical thing that’ll make it all make sense.
It’s funny, but listening again, the song reminds me of this guy I knew once, back in college, who had a habit of tracking down people who could do things, like juggle or play guitar or whatever, and would say, “show me something cool on [whatever it was].” You’d show him whatever cool thing popped into your head, and he’d be disappointed, shaking his head: “No, no — I mean something really cool.”
I realized eventually that he was looking for the “secret” to each of these things, some magical key bit of knowledge that would let him unlock the whole damn thing in one fell swoop. It never worked, but he was desperate for that secret all the same; that yearning is what’s behind “The Code,” and watching the video for it, simple as it is, it clicked into place for me.
On the flip side of the videos for “If I Could” and “The Code,” however, there’s the video for “Pieces of Rome,” which was the one part of the DVD I just didn’t care for all that much. I like the song quite a bit, honestly, but the video, which marries scenes from some old togas-and-sandals flick (hell, maybe it’s from the Rome miniseries, even; never saw it, so I couldn’t say) with still shots of Roman ruins and live footage of the band playing is jarring and, well, a little on the goofy side. It takes away from the song itself, which is a darned decent rocker that definitely doesn’t need those visuals to make an impact.
“Kublai Khan” falls halfway victim to the same thing, but in the opposite direction — again, the combining of the live shots with the up-close insect footage gets a little off-putting at points. I would’ve liked it better, I think, if the band had just stepped off to the side completely and let the insect footage be the video, like a real-world counterpart to Menomena’s freaky, fantastical “Evil Bee” video. The bits where the camera just passively watches weirdly-shaped caterpillars wander around, while Alkari’s music unfolds, are the best parts of the video by far.
The DVD extras are pretty neat, especially the Gallery section, and I suspect the only reason the Alkari guys didn’t make “Graves” a “real” video was lack of time — it’s a darn decent performance. On the negative side, I suspect that the promo-pack vibe of some of the DVD means that the majority of the people it’ll appeal to are going to be folks who are already fans of the band; not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you…it’s just that if you’re looking for an introduction to the band, you’re probably better off listening to an actual CD.
All that in mind, I have to say that the band’s heart shows through; this is obviously a labor of love, and that sweeps away all faults but the most egregious, in my book. These guys aren’t McG, no — rather, they’re just a band doing what they love to do and attempting to capture it on camera. I’m not going to say it’s the best DVD I’ve seen lately, no, but it’s fun to see.