Various Artists

Got RIO? Romantic Warriors II: Special Features DVD

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Zeitgeist Media's 2012 DVD Romantic Warriors II: A Progressive Music Saga About Rock in Opposition traced the RIO story from the '70s to the present but provided only tantalizingly short performance snippets from the featured artists. Released in early 2013, the "Special Features DVD" Got RIO? is thus a welcome addendum, providing an hour of performance videos from ten avant-prog groups/artists featured in the original documentary. And 15 interview clips are sequestered in their own section of the DVD, so one can play that hour of music without pesky spoken interruptions from the likes of Chris Cutler and Christian Vander. Recorded at the 2011 RIO fest in Carmaux, France, Yugen's astounding "Becchime" is a highlight of the 2012 CD Mirrors; here, the performance of this complex piece is visually captured in a smartly edited multi-camera shoot. Like "Becchime," Miriodor's "La Roche" and Aranis' "Noise," originally heard in studio versions on the former's 2009 Avanti! and the latter's 2010 RoqueForte, are strong entries in their respective repertoires. With band and audience alike immersed in a rather distracting light show, Miriodor ramp up to a dramatic conclusion on "La Roche," filmed at Washington, D.C.'s Sonic Circuits festival in 2010. Performing at a no-frills, intimate recording space in Antwerp and featuring Dave Kerman playing drums with incongruously huge-sounding chopsticks, Aranis build their atmospheric acoustic chamber rock to nearly orchestral proportions on the curiously titled "Noise."

Hamster Theatre careen through a four-minute frenetic and cartoony U.S. history lesson, building to a final last gasp; several Hamsters are also on-stage as members of the spikier Thinking Plague for "Dead Silence," with Elaine di Falco navigating a difficult vocal part from stage left, clearly not a standard "singer-with-backup-band" situation. Manic drummer Tatsuya Yoshida is wildly energetic as Ruins Alone; Italy's long-running Stormy Six offer a passionate folk-prog homage to an anti-fascist resistance fighter who met a tragic end after capture by the Nazis; and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi, as Rabbit Rabbit, come off like a pair of avant-garde subway buskers flummoxed by parenthood. Excellent performances notwithstanding, it all comes off as a bit scattershot, perhaps leaving the viewer as bemused as Cutler regarding what RIO has come to mean these days. And while the grayed-out www.progdocs.com URL in the corner of the screen (perhaps necessary to thwart piracy and unauthorized YouTube uploads) becomes a bit distracting, the lack of an appearance by the Univers Zero/Present/Aranis behemoth Once Upon a Time in Belgium (a humungous presence in Romantic Warriors II) seems an arguably serious oversight. The 40 minutes of interview excerpts -- some of which are over mere seconds after they start -- need the type of context the original documentary provided. (Roger Trigaux's comments that NEARfest served as inspiration for the RIO fest are enlightening, however.) Nevertheless, Got RIO? is a showcase for tremendous musicianship and a must-have for existing RIO fans, although the uninitiated should probably experience the original Romantic Warriors II first.

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