Hidden Flick: Rock ‘n’ Roll Drive-In Part Two

[Originally Published - April 5, 2011]

Hidden on the outskirts of town is another nether region, another place where mystery resides within riddles, a place so obscure and strange that one is tempted to call it the Twilight Zone, or the foggy sections of space best left unexplored, or uninhabited. Cars race by with their excited cinematic travelers, eager to drive through the gates. We dig a little deeper into the shadows, ponder the sights, ingest the sounds, eat a pizza slice or two, gulp a soda, catch some clips, and find that this isn’t exactly a foreign place at all, but instead, a friendly little gathering place we call the Rock ‘n’ Roll Drive-In.

The intriguing location has four screens playing eight films each night. At its central hub is a circular snack bar/munchie haven for the ADD-adled, socially-minded sections of the crowd; the key meeting place for cats after a long week of dodging assignments, phone calls and text messages, and a sane hang out to get away from it all. And thus, rolling our cars into view, we begin our special edition of Hidden Flick in this wondrous locale, which is lacking in neither a blitzkrieg of colorful imagery, nor thunderous volume. Films shown are not really hidden at all; some are borderline classics, but what distinguishes this edition is the hidden nature of the drive-in itself—there are no signposts to get there. One just travels along on a cinematic road looking for gold, and suddenly, here we are.

Each screen has a name plastered on a large neon sign at its particular entrance designating its distinct vibe. Screen #1 is labeled After Elvis Only Keith. This screen, on this specifically warm and wonderful evening, is showing the Paris Olympia Theatre appearance of the Rolling Stones on their 2003 tour, which appears in the four-DVD box set, Four Flicks. It is an intimate and intense performance, as the band roars through rare and more familiar material in a venue which harkens back to the band’s 1960s origins.

Playing on the screen after that is a film from a band celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2011. Clutch Live at the 9:30 is a driving piece of purpose from a band that has never attempted to change with the times. Instead, they appear much more willing to pound their audiences into raw submission with a formidable sound, along with some truly powerful lyrics voiced by vocalist/guitarist, Neil Fallon. Suffice to say, their drummer, Jean-Paul Gaster, also comes across well in the film, while, perhaps, being a respectful and rightful heir to the hallowed percussion throne of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

On Screen #2, its neon entrance sign reading Busy Being Born, the Flaming Lips’ feature debut, Christmas on Mars plays in a rather surreal way that is languid, mysterious and occasionally quite exhilaratingly weird; you know—your typical Lips’ experience. The true power of the film isn’t its rich black and white cinematography, its intriguing characterizations, story, or sets, but the ethereal and ambient soundtrack, which is worth seeking out on its own accord just to hear the band stripped of its excess and focusing on its essence—tunes cascade over and above the pulse of rhythm, resting ‘neath the surface.

Playing with the Mars freak show is Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain, a bootleg DVD from his May 23, 1976 performance at Hughes Stadium at the Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Dylan was in the midst of his Rolling Thunder tour, and the performance is especially incendiary, despite, perfectly ironic and symbolically, it taking place in a hard, driving rain, which only serves to strengthen the protean resolve of the icon and his sprawling band of musical guitar gunslingers, rogues, aging poets, gorgeous balladeers, sexy violinists, hipster icons and spirited troubadours.

Screen #3 has a neon entrance sign that says REY IS A JEDI as the T had burned out, and no one had taken the time to replace the lead bulb. Didn’t matter. This was the screen that showed random footage from various Phish performances. On this night, someone had spliced together a rather madcap combination of heady footage, which included Phish’s Mike’s Song from 12/31/95, The Flatbed Jam from August 1996’s Clifford Ball, Sand > Quadrophonic Toppling from 12/31/99’s Big Cypress millennium gig, Piper Guy Forget from 10/1/00, the Waves > David Bowie and Tower Jam passages from 2003’s IT DVD, and then an exploratory version of The Moma Dance from the 2004 Brooklyn DVD. All in all, the cumulative footage had a powerful impact, featuring fascinating sequences of imaginative improvisation by the beloved kings of everything good and weird and collaborative and just plain fun.

Trey’s DVD filmed at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on May 31, 2003 followed, and features another rather explosive collaboration. This time, it was Anastasio and Carlos Santana. Trey’s band was fairly hot on this night, evidenced by their ability to play it straight, stay in the pocket on a tight jam, and cut completely loose elsewhere. What is significant about this show is how easily Santana found a way to work within a template that Anastasio appeared to be toying with on a nightly basis. These moments underline the true magic of what a musician can do, even when the alleged rules have been thrown out, and one is making things up on the fly—drug-enhanced, or otherwise.

Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Alice Cooper and his band are celebrated in the first film on Screen #4, which had a neon entrance sign that read: Discipline and Danger. I have no idea what that means. Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper, was filmed on the 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour, and includes taut and toxic performances by the original classic Cooper lineup—guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith, and, of course, Vincent Furnier aka Alice, himself, on lead vocals and a-case-of-Budweiser-cans-per-day-I-shit-you-not. Yes, there is cheese throughout this film, but, hey, this IS a drive-in, and it is rock ‘n’ roll, man.

Led Zeppelin’s January 9, 1970 Royal Albert Hall performance in London closes the proceedings on Screen #4 appropriately enough. It is group leader, producer and guitarist Jimmy Page’s 26th birthday and he, along with his three extraordinarily talented bandmates are in their early prime as they rip through their growing repertoire which gives credence to the definition of the chemistry that Page always insisted the band had: the four musicians in union almost always created a dynamic and ethereal ‘fifth element’.

And that element was alive and well, not only at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970, but here, on this gorgeous and intoxicating night on the four screens at our hidden drive-in out past the city limits, deep in the middle of nowhere. Hidden on the outskirts of town is another nether region, another place where mystery resides within riddles, a place so obscure and strange that one is tempted to call it the Twilight Zone, or the foggy sections of space best left unexplored, or uninhabited. Cars race by with their excited cinematic travelers, eager to drive through the gates. We dig a little deeper into the shadows, ponder the sights, ingest the sounds, eat a pizza slice or two, gulp a soda, catch some clips and find that this isn’t exactly a foreign place at all, but instead, a friendly little gathering place.

As the scene faded from view, I looked back and saw an enormous tree near the entrance of the obscure place. Somehow, in my excitement at discovering such a weird and wonderful establishment, I missed its totem-like power as I drove through the entrance several hours earlier. The tree was massive, and stood as a monument to something real and true, but there was very little life left on its long and gangly branches. However, the fact that what was there was so extraordinarily beautiful made the tree even more powerful, large, and magical. I didn’t see the bareness, just the potential beauty and life in the small, new buds that were present and waiting to expand outwards in full bloom. Indeed, it is an appropriate gateway to many things, including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Drive-In.

- Randy Ray

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One thought on “Hidden Flick: Rock ‘n’ Roll Drive-In Part Two

  1. Chris Reply

    This would have been a really cool event to go to! I enjoyed reading this. You do a great job of expressing and explaining things.

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