Editor’s Note: This review comes to us from guest writer Aaron Turney who has written for several other publications and formed just as many bands.
By: Aaron Turney
Segovia famously denounced the idea of an electric guitar by likening it to a toaster. He despised the idea that such a beautiful instrument would be plugged in like a household appliance. But not many kids have posters of Segovia hung above their beds. They want to be Hendrix or Page with a wall of Marshall stacks flanking them on all sides. A Fender or a Gibson harnessed around their neck, slung low while tossing off musical acrobatics like “Stairway to Heaven,” a riff so famous many English music shops banned kids from playing it.
It Might Get Loud is a film for the bedroom dreamers and weekend warriors, a chance to see three of guitar rock’s finest players (by way of U2′s The Edge, Jimmy Page, and Jack White) on the same stage sharing licks, trading tips and talking about how they got to where they are. What are they going to impart to each other? Can the young guy teach the old dog new tricks? Will they all discover that they share a mutual love of crocheting?
You’re not going to get the Cliff’s Notes on being a guitar god from watching the film. There isn’t much instructional material for good reason. Who could teach Page anything? The Edge’s style is already so cemented that it’s not going to change. Jack White will probably start four new bands by the time you finish this review and won’t play guitar in any of them. But just because The Edge and White already have their own way of doing things doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the classics. When Page stands in front of the two and starts strumming the opening lines to “Whole Lotta Love,” White and Edge both flash a damn-I-wish-I-had-written-that-riff grin – the same one they had in the bedroom at fourteen.
But these three did not get together to teach each other technique. Those looking for tips on how to speed up your right hand flat picking should pay for some music lessons. This film, like director Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth, takes what could be a plunge into tedious minutiae and focuses on the story so that your girlfriend that you dragged kicking and screaming into the theater like a Saturday afternoon at Guitar Center won’t dump you after the credits roll.
Guggenheim follows the timeline of the trio using archival footage as rare as film of Zeppelin’s first shows filmed for Scandinavian TV to a modern day U2 concert DVD that your dad probably got for Christmas last year. Some of the most revealing footage is of the guitarists’ stories of their first real instrument. Guggenheim takes each guitar and superimposes it against a black background, giving us a larger-than-life view of the instrument. The Edge discusses his beloved Gibson Explorer, Page his first Stratocaster, and White, an old Kay archtop given to him by his brother for helping moe a stove to his brother’s thrift store.
Despite solid interview spaces, one misstep in the film is Guggenheim’s choice of such an antiseptic location for the three to meet up. It’s a glorified airplane hangar with a small stage loaded with amps, guitars, sofas and a turntable. Instead of using tight shots trying to create an intimate feel in such a large space, he would have done well to have chosen a more intimate location, and perhaps one more historic like Sun Studios in Memphis – considered by many to be the birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll and the studio U2 used to record parts of “Rattle and Hum.”
The solo interviews are where the unguarded personality of each performer comes out. When Page rifles through a stack of old 45s and throws Link Wray’s “Rumble” on the record player, Page plays air guitar to the track, grinning like a little kid when the sound gets aggressive. The Edge breaks out a box of old cassette tapes, many unlabeled. What he discovers are demos for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with Bono yelling out time signatures over the band as they build the track from the ground up. It’s these moments that make you see each of them in less guitar-godlike form. They are just teenagers trying to capture a sound or finish writing a four-minute pop song. The on-location shots of The Edge roaming his high school to find the first stage U2 performed on and Page’s guided tour of Headley Grange, the home the band used to record Led Zeppelin IV, offer us a much-needed inside look at the artist’s creative environments.
While the focus of the movie is clearly the instrument, it could be argued that technology is just as much a part of the story. Page is the pioneer of the instrument, and one of the first people to use the new distortion boxes in the mid-60s. By the time the Edge picks up a guitar there are dozens of pedals on the market and much cheaper than the first generation of effects boxes. In the first few minutes of the film the Edge doing his own version of yoga at his home in Dublin, his Blackberry outstretched at arms length. In his home studio he tinkers on his laptop with effects surrounding him. He is a geek for technology. You would be dreaming if you think there’s a cell phone in White’s suit pocket.
“Technology was a big destroyer of creativity in the 1980s,” Jack White says while driving his 50s style Cadillac around a Nashville suburb. When he plays his favorite song: an a cappella track by bluesman Son House, it’s as if his eyes quit working and shift all their energy to his ears. He’s transfixed by the track.
The technology that White claims hampered creativity was the thing that helped a Dublin youth who was pissed off at the spandex, hair spray and cocaine fueled 18-minute solos that ruled the airwaves create an alternative sound. But Page single-handedly invented the cocaine fueled 18-minute solo. It’s an interesting lineage to investigate, but it’s kept to the biographical parts of the film and away from the group meeting. Otherwise we might have actually seen the fistfight that White predicts before the trio meets in person
Unfortunately the awkwardness of the initial meeting carries through most of the film. The real value is in the independent interviews where the story can focus on the relationship between performer and his instrument. By the time the three perform the Band’s “The Weight” on acoustic guitars with the Edge and White taking lead vocals (Page insists he doesn’t sing), they have developed a level of comfort. As they play the song it feels as casual as a nighttime jam session around a campfire. Perhaps that’s because after talking about guitars for an hour and a half it’s more fun to just play.