Review - Burn to Shine: Washington D.C. 01.14.2004

Artist: Various Artists

It can't get more punk than a bunch of punk rockers taking over an abandoned house, playing all day and then, at the end of the day, burning the house down. Thus, the concept of Burn to Shine is an enticing one: a bunch of punk rockers take over an abandoned house, play all day and then, at the end of the day, the house burns down. And omnipresent Washington, D.C., scenesters Ian MacKaye and Bob Mould help out, so it should add up to an engaging punk-rock outing.

Sadly, this film doesn't quite turn out that way. You see, the house was slated for demolition anyway. The burn? Done as a training exercise for the D.C. fire department. The rock? Not so punk. Mould plays acoustic. MacKaye shows off his new one-guitar/one-girl-drummer project, The Evens. Ted Leo proves he's a 21st-century Jonathan Richman, and Weird War emphasizes that The Make-Up was a better idea.

Yet the concept is still successful, as filmmaker Brendan Canty (of Fugazi) was clearly more concerned with the musical results of putting the bands under what he calls a "microscope" of performing solely for the cameras in an otherwise empty, freezing living room. Somewhere between the isolated intensity of a rehearsal and the clinical vibe of a video shoot, the performances have none of the looseness of the former and none of the stultifying do-overs of the latter. (Every band plays just one song, in one take, with no overdubs.) The result is an entirely unique kind of musical capture. With future releases in the series taking place in Chicago and other cities, it will be interesting to see how other bands fare under the microscope.

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