Sunday, August 19, 2012

Feast On This, Alanis Morissette Fans! Feast On Scraps Is NOT A Great Concert DVD!

The Good: A few good songs, well presented.
The Bad: Audio fallouts, Prioritization of instrumentals over vocals, Not at all visually exciting
The Basics: In a surprisingly poor video endeavor, Alanis Morissette talks about her work and philosophy in between lousy concert footage taken from one of her tours and mashed (poorly) together.

Does anyone remember the old commercials for Memorex? You'd know the ones, if you saw them: "Is it live or Memorex?" The question was asked because the recording quality was supposedly so good that distinguishing between a live performance and the tape recording was supposed to be impossible. Of course, now it is hard for many of us to imagine that analog tapes ever achieved such quality, but it was a catchy slogan. On DVD, the Alanis Morissette DVD Feast On Scraps is clearly not live, it is a series of recordings, many of which are poor and erratic.

Feast On Scraps is a DVD and CD combo and given that the eight-track compact disc is occasionally found (legitimately or illegitimately) separate and can be downloaded as the album Feast On Scraps. For those sticklers on such things: my rating does not change at all based upon the presence of the eight additional songs. This set becomes no more redeemed by the eight new songs than it is on its own. That said . . .

"Ouch." Sometimes, a one-word summary can truly capture the essence of a thing and for the video presentation of Feast On Scraps, that one word would be "ouch." Just "ouch." Recorded during the recording sessions and concert tour supporting the album Under Rug Swept, Feast On Scraps is, mostly, just that, scraps. It ought to be noted that "Under Rug Swept" might well be my favorite Alanis Morissette album and so, if anything, I came to Feast On Scraps biased toward the DVD.

Unfortunately, the DVD is just a mess. The performance footage includes eighteen songs and three "Purgatorying" interludes of musings. Interspersed through concert footage is Morissette talking to camera or candid recordings near Morissette. As a result, there are amusing moments, like when Morissette in her limo pulls up next to a car, with its windows rolled down, listening to an Alanis Morissette song on the radio, looking over, seeing Morissette and freaking out. That's cute, it's almost kismet.

But largely, the interstitials (the little bits between Morissette actually performing) are duds. The first three and a half minutes of the DVD are all collections of moments pre-concerts as Morissette and her band get dressed, stretch, wrap legs, etc. I get that one needs a lead in but three and a half minutes of stretching, walking through hallways, etc. just to see Alanis Morissette and her mates on stage is just ridiculous. And right before "Thank You," Morissette talks about her guitarist David Levita. I am glad she thinks he is a remarkably great guitarist who takes risks and is real creative, but on DVD, a permanent medium, this wears thin. We get it, she gushes over David Levita. How many times does she honestly think that fans and well-wishers will sit through the individual commentaries on each of her bandmates as opposed to skipping ahead to the next song? It would have worked if this had either been done as a separate feature, all of the thanks for each bandmate had been done together, or this was a documentary. It is not.

Instead, this is a loose amalgamation of songs and thoughts and Morissette getting dressed. And the fact that Morissette has to goad the cameraperson early on into actually asking her questions, just kills the idea that this might actually be a cohesive project for anyone wishing it was a documentary on the tour surrounding Under Rug Swept. But for those just looking to kick back and have an Alanis Morissette concert experience, you, too, are in for an unfortunate surprise with Feast On Scraps. Instead of being one concert or even the best of the concert performances, Feast On Scraps seems to be a random collection of performances throughout the tour.

Take, for example, the presentation of "21 Things I Want In A Lover." This is, honestly, not one of my favorite songs (made more so by the fact that on a later album, Morissette did a similar listing song that sounded virtually identical) but when it began on the video, I actually got excited about it because it had been so long since I had heard it. On Feast On Scraps, "21 Things I Want In A Lover" is presented not only from various camera angles, but from various performances. One moment, Morissette is looking out at a sun-filled meadow packed with fans, the next, Morissette is performing on a darkened stage and in another cut, she is suddenly performing in a stadium with strobe lights and fog all about her. This sounds like it might actually be cool, like it might have a music video quality to it. It does not and it is certainly not cool.

Instead, the viewer is subjected to seemingly random changes of camera angle, performance and - worst of all - sound quality with no sense, sensibility or quality control surrounding it. So, for example, the audio track, like the video track, is presented using recordings that are from the point of recording. What does this mean? It means that when the image on screen suddenly goes to a camcorder-style shot of Morissette's back, the audio recording is being recorded from the same vantage point. Yes, Morissette cuts from singing to camera through a sound system in one frame to a recording of her singing, facing away from an inferior camera twenty feet away. It sounds like it was recorded off the radio, then copied off for friends and this is about a fifth generation copy of that.

Such audio fallouts are spread throughout Feast On Scraps. Because various performances are mashed together with little respect to the performance or the audio quality, Morissette will be in the middle of a song, the recording will shift to a different performance/angle/audio track and it will be impossible to hear her. So, yes, unless one is sitting with one's remote and constantly adjusting the volume up and down, there is no way to truly enjoy this DVD. It is so erratic that it becomes more of a chore than a treat.

As well, the mixing for some of the biggest numbers, like the opening "Baba" and "You Oughta Know" later in the disc, is absolutely terrible. Have you ever been to a concert where it is clear the engineers who are mixing the sound have absolutely no idea what they are doing? You know, like you go to a rock concert and even after the vocals begin, the proportions are so off that the instrumentals dominate? Or the mixing board personnel ups the volume on an instrument that completely changes the sound of the song so it is unrecognizable even after the vocals begin? Feast On Scraps has that type of engineering in almost all of the prime footage from the main - "official" - concert track. So when Morissette comes out and begins singing, the guitars, bass and percussion so overwhelm her vocals that it is impossible to decipher what she is singing. It almost is enough to make one wish for a weird fallout moment where the footage is just poorly recorded as opposed to inappropriately mixed.

And then there is the pointless footage. For all of my gripes against vocal fallout, poor mixing and visually boring scraps, at least the are original. As the DVD trundled on, I kept going because the penultimate track is one of my favorite songs (of all time!) and one that surprises me Morissette never released as a single (Hey, Alanis, why not release it now?!): "That Particular Time." Haunting and sad, this is possibly the best she has ever written and performed and I have listened to the song at least a hundred times since the first time I heard it last year. On Feast On Scraps, we are not given a live performance of the song. Instead, we are given a collection of shots of her writing the song, going over the production and instrumentation of it and singing it for the studio recording. No, it's not new, it's just visual.

And it is not like an Alanis Morissette concert is an extreme visual act, making one wonder why Morissette bothered with this endeavor. Instead of seeing more of Morissette (even at weird angles we can't hear her at) we are subjected to a number of banal visuals. For example, in "Hand In My Pocket," the camera pans to an audience member. As the song begins, he perks up, begins singing along and raises his arms as if he is having a religious experience. If he is, that's nice for him. Any spiritual experience I might be having by seeing Morissette in concert is being gutted by having to watch this guy have his instead of Morissette herself.

In other words, it is hard to get at all excited about this disc and even the excitement one might have for it is seriously undermined by the execution of the compilation. For those who need such things, the tracklisting is: "Baba," "Right Through You," "21 Things I Want In A Lover," "Hand In Pocket," "Unprodigal Daughter," "Flinch," "All I Really Want," "Precious Illusions," "Sympathetic Character," "So Unsexy," "Head Over Feet," "You Oughta Know," "Hands Clean," "Uninvited," "Ironic," "You Learn," "That Particular Time," and 'Thank You." Most are performed live and almost none of them are intact as a single performance with a consistent, decent audio track. And visually, this is a huge disappointment.

For other Alanis Morissette works, check out my reviews of:
Jagged Little Pill
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
Under Rug Swept


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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